In the 1960’s the British Pop band Manfred Mann had many hits. One of my favorites they did is called The Mighty Quinn, but they might be more well-known for another song they covered in 1964. This song would eventually hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 of that year. It’s called Doo Wah Diddy and the lyrics are as follows:

“There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do” Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind……Before I knew it she was walkin’ next to me, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”…… The song goes on like this for some time and it ends with these words, “We’re so happy and that’s how we’re gonna stay, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do” Well, I’m hers, she’s mine, I’m hers, she’s mine, wedding bells are gonna chime.”

Don’t worry, this sermon isn’t going to begin with an argument for or against snappin’ fingers, shufflin’ feet, or holding hands before marriage, but I do want you to notice what’s happening in this song. Here’s a guy who sees a certain gal and is at once taken by her, captured by her beauty such that he nearly lost his mind in the marvel of this woman. Joyfully the song ends in marriage where ‘wedding bells are gonna chime.’ 

Why bring this up? As we continue on in Revelation this evening we’re going to see another guy marveling over another gal who’s wooing him and trying her best to captivate him with her beauty. But, this woman isn’t as she appears. She is arrayed in gems and lavish clothing, but she is the epitome of evil. She’s drunk on the blood of the martyrs, she’s riding a beast, and she’s seeking to make the nations drunk in sexual immorality. Thankfully we see more in this text. We also see our strong God revealing her for who she is, defeating her, and rescuing His Church from her. Turn with me to Revelation 17 where tonight we’ll meet the gal who’s been called by many the mystery woman.

You should know that chapter 17 begins another cycle in the parallel patterns within Revelation as a whole. While the cycles that have come before have been repeating patterns of the same story with increasing intensity each time, this sixth cycle narrows in its focus and with an extremely heightened intensity centers solely on the pouring out of the sixth and seventh bowls.[1] Perhaps view it like this: we have five cycles now of the same events so far, now as chapter 17 begins we get a magnified view the last two bowls being poured out. 

Let’s see these things for ourselves…

The Marvel of the Woman (v1-6)

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.”

At the very end of Revelation John will be summoned to come and see the glory and wonder of the Bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb (21:9). But before that stunning moment, here as chapter 17 begins John is summoned to come and see another woman, who is called in v1 “the great prostitute” who sits on many waters. Who is this woman? 

First, see her identity. Look ahead to v6 and v18, where we find she is “Babylon the great” and “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” which I take to be the city of Babylon, and as we’ve seen many times Babylon is the symbol of all that is worldly and wicked throughout Revelation. Jeremiah 51:13 speaks of the ancient city of Babylon sitting proudly and safely on the waters of the Euphrates river.[2] Here it seems this woman is the personification of wickedness who has extended her sin to the ends of the earth, because she doesn’t sit by one river but on many waters, and no longer has one king but rules over the kings of the earth. 

Second, see her activity. The rest of v2 mentions she extends her rule over the nations by making them drunk. Drunk on what? The wine of sexual immorality. That shouldn’t be surprising since she’s already been called “the great prostitute” in v1. Her identity and activity together reveal her to be a temptress, a harlot, the chief or mother of all of them in fact, who is hard at work seducing the world to her and her ways.[3]

Third, see her location. v3a mentions John is carried out to the wilderness where he sees her. Interesting isn’t it? As delightful as she looks to many her true nature isn’t abundance but desolation. Yes, she is a city (v18) but the nature of that populous city is a barren wilderness. She allures with promises of fullness, satisfaction, and pleasure but upon giving yourself to her ways one only gets a dry barren wasteland of a soul in return. I think this offer of sinful pleasure is what’s being referred to in v4 as it mentions a golden cup in her hand full of the abominations and impurities of her sexual immorality. Seeing a golden cup might lead one to expect an extravagant, cool, refreshing liquid in it. But its contents don’t refresh they impoverish, so perhaps we’d do well to remember the old adage “all that is gold does not glitter.”[4]One poet put it like this, “I tried the broken wells Lord, but the waters failed. Even as I stooped to drink they fled, and mocked me as I wailed.”[5]

Fourth, see her mount. v3b mentions she’s sitting on a beast. Not just any beast, but a scarlet beast full of blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this beast is none other than Satan himself, who is the beast of the other visions John has had in Revelation. That the beast is scarlet links him with the red dragon of chapter 12 we saw earlier as well as the blood of the martyrs she is drunk with from v6. We’ll discuss the heads and horns when we get to v7-14. Here notice that this woman is sitting on the beast, riding it, which gives us the sense of a great alliance between the two. This beast then, carries this woman where he desires, supports her, and protects her.[6]

Fifth, see her adornment. v4 shows it: purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls. Her clothing shows her as a royal queen who is gorgeously arrayed and excessively adorned.[7] These same kind of outward adornments are spoken of in Jeremiah 4:30 as typical of an ancient prostitute dressing up to attract customers.[8] This kind of lavish decadence is employed to dupe, to seduce, to entice the kings of the earth to her. In this we should note a contrast. This woman’s beauty is entirely on the exterior, it’s sensual, and full of lustful appetite. Contrast that with the woman John sees at the end of Revelation. The wife of the Lamb, the Church, the Bride of Christ shines clear as crystal, is far more beautiful, far more pleasurable, far richer, far more satisfying, and entirely pure. While the beauty of the great prostitute is on the outside, the Church might be beautiful on the outside, but shines out brilliantly from within. The contrast between these two women is important. Before in chapter 13 we saw the beast who was wounded but had lived be a kind of parody of Christ in many ways. Here this woman in chapter 17 is shows herself to be Satan’s puppet and parody of God’s Church that he wields in this world for ruinous purposes.

Sixth, see her name. Finally in v5 John learns her name. “And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” A fitting name for such a wicked woman.

Now, this vision is of a decadent yet deceitful woman, but she isn’t really a woman. She’s a symbol of Babylon, a symbol of the world that’s against Christ, a symbol of all the kingdoms of the earth personified as a prostitute who sells herself and gives birth to abominations of all kinds.[9] All that this woman then stands for could be clearly defined by 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” And in the very next verse we’re told what comes of these things. 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” John himself, his audience of churches he’s writing to, and we ourselves are warned greatly in seeing this woman. Underneath her outward appeal and empty promises is death. Beneath her rides the devil who’s aim is to destroy us. So, if we give in to sin, if we flirt with this woman, or make room for her, or allow her to come close to us, we will deaden the affection of our hearts toward Christ. We need to remember the sacraments. We need to remember how, in our baptism we became engaged to Christ, pledged ourselves to Him in faithfulness, and as often as we partake of the Lord’s Supper we renew that commitment to Him. Church, we are His bride, and we must remember to flee sin because the end of all sin is destruction.[10] Look at the end of v6? John even “marvels greatly” at this woman. Let’s be warned.

The Marvel of the Wicked (v7-14)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Thankfully, while John does marvel at this woman the angel rebukes him and clarifies what she truly is. In a sense the angel reminds John to not judge the book by its cover, to see the shiny and alluring world for its true hideous nature. The angels states he will do this in v7, and then begins unfolding this in v8-14. In v8-9a the beast who was, is not, and is to come itself as another parody against Jesus who is, who was, and is to come. John marveled at this woman and was brought to his senses here. But the wicked in this passage marvel at the beast, even though the beast is about to go into the pit of destruction and bring the wicked with him. Note the wicked are described as those whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world just as they were back in 13:8, reminding us that over against this strong beast and alluring woman is a God stronger who’s grace is more captivating, and even from the foundation of the world He has held His elect secure in His hand.

That is all clear, it gets difficult in v9b-13. Beginning with a call for wisdom, hinting at the difficulty of this passage, we read “the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated…” Rome was nicknamed the city of seven hills, so that seems to be clear the woman is using Rome to spread her deceptions to the world. What is not clear is what follows. “…they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” One approach to understanding this has been to trace the kings of Rome. Five of them have fallen in the past, one reigns now, and one will reign briefly in the future. But the problem with this view is that there are as many different lists as there are different interpreters, so it seems quite difficult to see this as literal kings of Rome. Another approach to understand this has been, not to trace the kings of Rome, but various kingdoms of the world that have reigned in a similar wicked manner to Rome. But here too there are many various lists in view one could write down, so this view also seems highly improbable. I think the solution, no surprise, is a symbolic approach to this passage. We’re not to read the number seven in v9-11 or the number ten in v12 literally but symbolically referring to wholeness or completeness, as we’ve done time and time again throughout Revelation. Here then, we see clearly. The beasts reign underneath this woman extends fully, completely over the whole of fallen human history.[11] In this light remember Israel had once been in captivity to Babylon in the Old Testament, and Daniel and his friends though in it were not to be of it. Here John is once again making a similar argument. That this woman, this Babylonian worldly system dominates the world and wherever the Church exists in this world it exists in an environment under the influence of “Babylon.” And as Daniel did before we too are to be in the world but not of the world.[12]

In v13 we see the beast and all with him are united in purpose in their war against God, His Kingdom, and His people. And yet, fight as they may, v14 reminds us of the outcome. the Lamb will conquer. Why? He is Lord is lords and King of kings. One commentator says here, In truth, “…every pagan empire is another incarnation of the same satanic spirit that will reach full intensity just before the glory of the Lamb…” destroys them.[13] Notice also, those united to Christ are called chosen and faithful because they’ve endured to the end by His grace.

We come now to an ending we might expect…

The Marvel of the End (v15-18)

“And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out His purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

The angel gives further explanation here. He defines the waters under the woman as the nations in v15. But then in v16-18 we read in this moment the beast will do what beasts do, turn on their riders. The ten horns and the beast will hate the woman, make her desolate and naked, devour her, and burn her up. Why? v17 says it, because God has put this into their hearts to do, and in doing it, God’s purposes are fulfilled. What trust and hope and surety we have in Him? He is sovereign over all things, even using evil to bring about His purposes, praise Him!

Conclusion:

Earlier I said it and now I’ll say it again, “We need to remember how, in our baptism we became engaged to Christ, pledged ourselves to Him in faithfulness, and as often as we partake of the Lord’s Supper we renew that commitment to Him. Church, we are His bride, and we must remember to flee sin because the end of all sin is destruction.[14]


[1] G. K. Beale and David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Eerdmans, 2015), 353.

[2] Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, First Edition (Phillipsburg, N.J: P&R Publishing, 2001), 243.

[3] Joel Beeke, Revelation: The Lectio Continua: Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 455.

[4] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2017), 481.

[5] Emma Frances, quoted in Beeke, Revelation, 459.

[6] Beeke, 459–60.

[7] William Hendriksen, quoted in Phillips, Revelation, 480.

[8] Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 245, footnote 7..

[9] James M. Hamilton Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 326.

[10] Beeke, Revelation, 460.

[11] Phillips, Revelation, 493.

[12] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 861.

[13] Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 251.

[14] Beeke, Revelation, 460.

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