Wickedness Personified 2
The woman in this chapter is not an individual. 'She' represents an ideological or religious world system, which opposes the Lord Jesus Christ, and to which all national governments give their allegiance (Revelation 17:18). An angel had prefaced this part of the vision by encouraging John not to despair because that woman would be punished (Revelation 17:1). Then John found himself taken by the Spirit to the isolation of a desert, to observe the woman. It is a parable about the future, in which the 'woman' will take advantage of the Antichrist (the beast) to advance her intentions (Revelation 17:3). She is dressed as a rich prostitute, offering to satisfy the leaders of the world (Revelation 17:2, 4). The name written on her forehead is an allusion to the law in Rome that prostitutes should be clearly identified with their name on a headband.
Babylon was the ancient enemy of God's people, devastating Jerusalem and taking the people into captivity (2 Kings 24:15-25:21). But God promised to deal with the city, and He did: "Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah." (Isaiah 13:19). Babylon was also a Christian 'code-word' for Rome (1 Peter 5:13) that, in Nero's time, treated Christians as a disease to be eradicated. Whatever Babylon will prove to be in the future, we know that it is full of hate for God's people, delighting in the death of authentic Christians.
John was shocked by this vision, despite knowing that Babylon would be punished. That dread horror will be shared by the faithful believers towards the end of time. But a greater problem than the woman, is the beast – Satan's chief operator, the Antichrist. Obvious evil emerges at particular points of history and then apparently disappears, before returning in another form. It is devilishly powered but will eventually be finally punished. The church should expect such external attacks but know that the Lord of the church will finally defeat Satan (Hebrews 2:14).
Although many have tried to predict the identity of this 'woman in purple and scarlet' (Revelation 17:4), the best we can do is to extrapolate from the past and present: we cannot see the future. However, whenever an ideology surges around the globe, denying the Lordship of Christ, we must stand firm - knowing that the Lord Himself will have the last word. However blatantly and globally the Lord Jesus and His people are defamed and persecuted (Acts 9:5) it is important to know that none of it is outside the Lord's sovereign hand. In the end, Jesus will be seen as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14). Meanwhile let us support and pray for our brothers and sisters who even today suffer the foreshocks leading up to Christ's final victory against all that is evil (Hebrews 13:3).
© Dr Paul Adams