Join us as we study through Revelation verse by verse. Our Bible study guides contain discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications which can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.
Revelation 17 Online Bible Study Lesson With Questions – The Great Prostitute And The Beast
I. The Prostitute (1-6)
II. The Beast (7-11)
III. The Alliance Against The Lamb (12-14)
IV. The Beast And Kings Turn Against The Prostitute (15-18)
I. The Prostitute (1-6)
What is she selling?
Who does she seduce?
How are these same temptations being sold today?
Who or what is the scarlet beast in verse 3? Why is she sitting on it?
What do the purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls show us about this woman?
How is she connected with Babylon?
How does she treat believers?
How can believers guard themselves against the seduction of the world today?
What does God call the things in the golden cup? How would the world call those very same things?
1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.
Ephesians 5:3 – But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
Galatians 5:19 – Now he works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Timeline – The seven bowl judgments have been poured out. Jesus’ return and the final judgment upon the world, its leaders, and its system are near. That is what the angel is now about to show John. Chapter 17 is not, however, a snapshot in time. Rather, it shows the progression throughout the tribulation of the relationship between the prostitute, the beast, the ten king alliance, and the world, all of which will finally end in judgment.
2. The Great Prostitute –
Reflect: Who or what is the great prostitute?
Verse 5 identifies this figure as, “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” Babylon represents the evil world order that throughout history has set itself up against the Lord. From the beginning, Babylon was an evil city and an evil symbol. At the original Babel, people united together in rebellion against God’s commands. They created their own culture, own kingdom, and their own religion with the goal of man being independent of God.
Chapter 18 continues detailing the fall of Babylon. It seems that “Babylon” in Revelation is composed of two entities. The first entity (chapter 17) is the evil religious system and the second entity (chapter 18) is the economic system.
The “great prostitute” is a one-world religion that will emerge in the end times. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets often described Israel’s pursuit of other gods (including idols) as harlotry.
Jeremiah 3:6-9 – Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
A prostitute seduces a person away from his commitment and causes him to become faithless. She uses outward beauty to entice. At the same time, she makes many promises about the thrills and fun to come. All prove to be lies and those who believe her will go to their own destruction.
False religions are like prostitutes because they entice people away from the narrow way of God and onto the broad road of destruction. They use all types of methods, including false promises, to seduce people. And the result is destruction. There may appear to be many different religions in the history of the world. These can be reduced to the one true religion (Bible), and all false religions. These myriads of false religions were all spawned by Satan to mislead.
Throughout history, there have been many “little prostitutes,” false religions which have turned people away from the truth of God. During the end times, these will unite under one banner. The great prostitute will be the culmination of all of these. It will be the last and greatest attempt by Satan to lure people away from God and bind them to his false religion.
There have been many movements in history toward a one-world religion. None have been successful as yet, but efforts are gaining steam. In many cultures, “tolerance” and “inclusivity” are popular buzzwords. Of course, we know that Biblical Christianity will not be tolerated because this new one-world religion will seek the total destruction of the followers of Christ (17:6).
Truth, by definition, is narrow. Religions with different beliefs cannot both be true. But the truth will not be considered important. Instead, pleasure and indulgence will be glorified.
What will this new religion look like? Catholicism? Muslim? Something else?
We don’t know the exact path things will take to get there, but we do know the destination.
Application: Believers need to guard the truth. We must stand firm against ecumenism, guarding the purity of the church. While we should seek to preserve unity with other real believers (Ephesians 4:1-3), we must be careful not to follow the modern idea of tolerance to the point of compromising on fundamental Biblical issues. We must guard against the creep of secularism into the church and say as Paul did, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God.”
3. What is the prostitute offering? – Three times in this chapter it connects this harlot with “sexual immorality.”
Revelation 17:2 – 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.”
The new world religion will be a filthy abomination. It will be a thinly veiled (or more likely unveiled) invitation to every type of sexual indulgence. How attractive that will be for unbelievers. Carnal pleasures are “worship.” The most unholy unions are “holy.” Evil will be called good and good will be called evil.
Students of history should not be surprised. Many religions in history have encouraged sexual immorality. The great prostitute will only level up the seduction that all of the little prostitutes in history have already engaged in.
“All kinds of immoralities were associated with the [Greco-Roman] gods. Not only was prostitution a recognized institution, but through the influence of the fertility cults of Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia it became a part of the religious rites at certain temples. Thus there were one thousand “sacred prostitutes” at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.” – Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)
Greek mythology is filled with tales of their gods’ sexual promiscuity. Roman cities including Aphaca and Heliopolis contained temples where “sacred sex” or cult prostitution was practiced. Historically, in Hindu temples, young girls are given in ritual marriage to a Hindu god and then work in temples as prostitutes. Aztecs practiced sacred prostitution in their religious rites. And Incas sometimes dedicated young boys for homosexual intercourse with chieftains in their temples. The Canaanite peoples practiced cult prostitution. In addition, there is evidence that Sumer and Babylon also had variations of the practice.
It is not only an ancient world thing. Some modern cults also endorse the same practices.
What is going on here?
It is simple. These are false religions. False religions are spawned by Satan. He is the father of lies. Evil is called good and good is called evil. He seeks to pervert what God intended for good. He uses man’s appetite for sex to bind him to sin and chain him to the kingdom of darkness. What better way than to claim you can be spiritual and holy by satisfying your own sinful desires?
Ecclesiastes 1:9 – What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. The same strategies are used to tempt people over and over because they are effective. The seductions of the great prostitute in the end times are merely the climax of this age-old battle between good and evil. The things done in the past secretly behind closed walls will then be done openly and brazenly praised as progressive and liberating.
Application: In today’s age, Satan is using the same methods to entice and trap people. What are some practical ways to protect yourself against the temptation of sexual immorality? How can knowing the truth help you win this battle even in your own mind?
4. Sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names – The beast appears to be the one-world government of which the antichrist will be the head. The one-world government and the one-world religion will be allied. They will work together to seduce people and wage war against Jesus and His followers. The woman was pictured in verse as sitting on “many waters.” She was dominating the whole world and seducing leaders from many nations. Now she is depicted as sitting on the beast. He in turn is over the world. So all of the evil concentrated in her is now concentrated on the beast as they are yoked together.
We will see at the end of the chapter that the alliance is a temporary one. The antichrist and his government will turn against this world religion after he is done using it to accomplish his own purposes.
5. The outer appearance of the prostitute – At first glance, the prostitute looks beautiful. She is rich and living a life of opulence. According to the world’s standards, she is highly successful. The implication is that those who join with her can be successful too and have their wildest fantasies fulfilled.
Sin is like that. It makes lofty promises, none of which will be fulfilled.
The character of this woman stands in complete contrast with a woman of God. She is exactly the opposite of the kind of woman praised in the Bible. It should not be a surprise that the antichrist’s system is the opposite of God’s.
1 Peter 3:3-4 – Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Application: Women of God would do well to take note of these worldly values and make sure they are not being influenced by the world’s system. Do not focus on external beauty, but focus on your inner character and spirit. External beauty fades away, but the inner spirit is imperishable. Evaluate the amount of time spent on make-up, hair, fashion, design, clothing, cosmetics, spas, etc., and compare that to the amount of time spent in God’s Word and on God’s kingdom.
6. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus – While this religion will likely boast about its tolerance, peace, and inclusivity, it will be anything but. It will not be a religion of peace, but will practice “my way or the highway.” Those who don’t buy in (believers), will be brutally rounded up and massacred.
Reflect: Why will followers of Jesus be targeted? What does this also teach us about the world we live in now?
II. The Beast (7-11)
What does it mean that the beast “was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit?”
What is the bottomless pit?
What will happen to the beast?
How will believers react to him? How about unbelievers?
What causes believers and unbelievers to react so differently to the same thing?
How can you grow in discernment so that you will not be deceived?
What do the seven mountains represent?
What about the seven kings?
Revelation 13:8 – And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Revelation 20:15 – And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 9:11 – They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
Revelation 20:1-3 – Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Philippians 1:9-10 – And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The beast that you saw was and is not and is about to rise –
There are several theories as to what this statement means. Some believe it is a reference to the Roman Empire, which existed and faded out, and will exist again as the revived Roman Empire.
Others take it as a reference to the antichrist, who will seemingly be killed and then come back to life.
Revelation 13:3 – One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.
This supposed resurrection will appear so miraculous that the citizens of the world will “marvel.” The wording is very similar to Revelation 17:8, which makes it likely that it is the same event being described.
Through some kind of Satanic power, the antichrist will resurrect (or appear to). That apparent miracle will convince the world of his power and be a catalyst for causing the world to worship him (Revelation 13:4). Immediately following this event in Revelation 13 the world starts to worship the dragon and the beast. And here in Revelation 17, this event occurs right before the prostitute (false religion) is put down, paving the way for the one-world religion to turn into unveiled Satan worship.
2. Only unbelievers will marvel – Believers will not be deceived by this. Everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life will have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit. The power of God will prevent them from being deluded and instead give discernment. One of the ways God keeps our eyes open to the truth is His Word. These very prophecies in Revelation which are studied by believers warn His people about what is to come so that they won’t be taken in when it is fulfilled.
Application: Those without Christ are blinded. But God gives us discernment. Let us carefully study His Word, examine situations in the world through prayer, and test every spirit so that we will be sure to remain standing on the rock of Christ.
3. This calls for a mind of wisdom – Believers who study the Scriptures and look to the Lord for understanding, will be able to understand the challenging symbols about to be depicted.
4. Seven heads and ten horns – Both of these refer to sets of rulers. But they are different sets of rulers. The ten rulers are future rulers. These will rise to prominence in the end times and only rule for a short time (one hour referring to the tribulation period). They will rule under the authority of the antichrist, and give all of their power and authority to him. Either the world or a specific region of the world will be united under these ten regions, which will allow the antichrist to rule them much easier than would be the case now with 249 total countries.
The seven kings belong to a different set. They are represented by seven mountains, which shows how powerful they are. They are not just normal rulers, but the highest of rulers. Unlike the ten kings who were all future to the time of John, only one of these seven was future to John. Five of them had already come and gone by the time John received his vision. One of them was likely currently ruling when John received his vision. The other was yet to come and will be the antichrist.
This passage has created endless debates among Christians. There are many theories about who these seven rulers are. Here are a few of the common theories:
• The seven refers to seven kingdoms who ruled over Israel: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome (the one that is), and the revived Roman empire.
• The seven refers to seven kingdoms who ruled over Israel: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome (the one that is), and Ottoman, Turk/Islamic Caliphate.
• The seven refers to seven Roman Emperors. Several different sets have been proposed including; August, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, and Titus.
• The seven refers to seven kings who reigned over Jerusalem and Babylon from the four empires mentioned in Daniel. Only the first king from a dynasty/empire is added to the list. The seven are; Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander the Great, Ptolemy III, Antiochus Seleucid, Titus, and the future antichrist.
Each of the above has different variations that are similar. Since the text specifically says that these are “kings” and not “kingdoms,” the first two explanations would not fit. If we take it at face value, these are historical kings (and 1 yet future, the antichrist), who will be connected to the prostitute of false religion. Since the statue in Daniel and the four beasts of Daniel referred to more than one nation, and this is a description of kings ruling over time, I believe the fourth explanation (or a variation of it) above is closest to the correct interpretation.
While the exact names are difficult to identify, the main idea is clear. God is sovereign. He is on the throne. He is bringing history to its planned conclusion. Many of the rulers of the world are connected to an evil system, which sets itself up against God. All finally face His judgment.
5. The beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seventh – The antichrist is both the seventh and the eighth. After he dies (or appears to), it ends the first part of his short-lived dynasty. When he resurrects (or appears to) that marks the beginning of the second part of his rule. It will be quite different in some ways from the first part. He will take more power and demand worship, while totally destroying the last vestiges of any religion that is not directly Satanic.
III. The Alliance Against The Lamb (12-14)
What do the ten horns represent?
What does it mean that they will receive power for one hour?
What relationship do they have with the beast?
What war will they fight?
How are the believers described here?
2 Timothy 3:12 – Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. They hand over their power and authority to the beast – It is hard to imagine world rulers giving their power to someone else, but these ten rulers in the end times will do just that. The delusion will be so strong, and perhaps their fear so great, that they will in essence turn their kingdoms over to the antichrist. Presumably, all of their weapons of war will also be transferred to his control as well.
2. They will make war on the Lamb and the Lamb will conquer them – Throughout Revelation we see this epic battle of good versus evil coming to a head. It is not a new battle, but has already been waged over the millennia. Yet during this future time, it will be more public and everyone will have to consciously choose a side. These ten rulers will throw in their lot with the devil, and declare war against King Jesus. It will be a colossal mistake and a colossal mismatch.
Jesus will win. The outcome is never in doubt. How could it be? He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.
His followers also will have their part to play. Believers at that time will be called to be faithful.
Application: Your role is simple. Be faithful. He who is faithful in a little thing is faithful also in much. Be faithful today so that when the persecution and pressure increase, you will be ready.
IV. The Beast And Kings Turn Against The Prostitute (15-18)
What can we learn in verse 15 about this prostitute’s worldwide popularity?
How does this prostitute’s relationship with the world leaders change in verse 16?
What may cause this change?
What can we learn from this about their trustworthiness? About their end goals?
What role is God playing in all of this (17)?
What does it mean that the woman is the “great city” that has dominion over the kings of the earth (18)?
Since the world is filled with such abominations, betrayal, and lust for power, what should our view of the world be?
How can we make sure that we are not attached to this world?
James 1:15 – Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Proverbs 19:21 – Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 21:1 – The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The waters are the peoples and multitudes and nations and languages – False religion deceives multitudes of people around the world and it always has. Satan has always sought to control people by enslaving them to false religion.
Only Jesus can break those chains of bondage and set people free.
2. The ten kings will destroy the prostitute – The unholy alliance between the antichrist and the one-world religion will not last. That end times religion, more than any in all of history, will be visibly evil and Satanic. It will be very thinly veiled Satanism. But even a thin veil is too much for Satan. He won’t want to pretend to be something good in order to get worship. He won’t want to go by any of his many names Molech, Baal, Zeus, etc. anymore. His goal is to be directly and publicly worshiped as God.
So the one-world religion, with whatever leader will be over it at that time, will incur his wrath and betrayal. He will use it for a period of time to gain control and power over the divided nations. When he is done with it, he will not only discard it, but rip it to shreds. It will be made “desolate,” and “naked,” and be devoured and burnt up with fire. This will likely coincide with Revelation 13:4.
Revelation 13:4 – And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
Very likely all visible signs of false religion will be destroyed including mosques and temples. Churches and synagogues will not escape either.
Satan is in the business of using people. If given the chance, he will squeeze everything out of you and then discard you like rubbish. He will use the leaders of this one-world religion for his own purposes. When he is done, they will be killed. It’s very similar to the classic bad-guy movie. In these movies, viewers watch incredulously as people make shady deals with bad guys. At the end of the story, they are always betrayed. Satan is a terrible master and partner. He does not keep his word and his goal is your ultimate destruction.
In every way, Satan is antichrist. Jesus loves and cares and nourishes, restores, and forgives. Jesus is compassionate. He is a good and kind Lord.
3. God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose… until the word of God is fulfilled – God is sovereign. He is working to bring His plan to its ultimate conclusion. These kings do not intentionally choose to be so, but they are his puppets. They are not robots. They make these decisions themselves and are responsible for them. But they are playing right into God’s hands.
God’s sovereignty is so amazing that He uses people who make their own decisions (many of them wrong) to bring about His plan and to fulfill prophecy.