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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Revelation 17:1, 2 says,
1 And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I shall show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
The sequence of judgments upon Babylon reached a climax by the end of Revelation 16. Now an angel calls John aside to give him more specific details about the identity of the great harlot and to show him the manner of her fall from power. John was non-specific, but he tells us that this angel was one of the seven who poured a bowl of wine upon Babylon (Revelation 15:7). My own revelation indicates that this was actually the first of the seven, that is, the Redemption Angel.
The Redemption Angel reveals all of the information in chapter 17, culminating in Revelation 17:18,
18 “And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
In other words, Babylon is pictured as a woman (“harlot”) and a city. The woman is not a literal woman, although in the types and shadows of past prophecy, Jezebel stands out as a main representative of this harlot. Even the “city” itself is figurative, because it is more than a city. The ancient city of Babylon was a type of an entire world system. Yet these biblical metaphors are important from a legal standpoint, because they invoke certain laws by which harlots and cities may be judged.
One such law, as we have already explained, is the law of redemption as applied to urban property in Leviticus 25:29, 30, 31. Buying urban property gives the previous owner a one-year right of redemption. Babylon is a city. So this law prophesies the manner in which the Redemption Angel overthrows Babylon.
When we held our Jubilee Prayer Campaign on November 21-29, 1993, we understood that we were “purchasing urban property” and this is how we knew that we would see the actual results one year later (November 29, 1994). This year coincided with and was supported by the prophecy in Daniel 4:29. The same principle applied in October 2014 when the transfer of authority gave jurisdiction over the earth to the overcomers at the end of the “seven times” of divine judgment. We knew that we would have to wait another year to allow the “city” its redemption rights in case they might redeem their property.
While some may think all of this to be absurd, we must remind everyone that the law prophesies, because it is the guideline by which God judges men, nations, and the world itself. Any time we speak of divine judgment, it should be understood that God judges by His law, not by the laws of men. Therefore, His law is more than just a moral standard for men to follow; it is also prophetic, because it sets forth the parameters of divine justice when the divine court issues its rulings.
As we will see later, other angels besides the Redemption Angel have their role in this divine judgment. There were seven who poured out the bowls of wine and judgment. In Revelation 17-20 we see four angels participating in the judgment: the Redemption Angel in 17:1, an “angel having great authority” in 18:1, and “a strong angel” in 18:21, and finally, an angel “having the key of the abyss” in 20:1. We will say more of these as we proceed.
The Great Harlot
The Redemption Angel is the first to identify Babylon as a harlot in Revelation 17:1. She “sits on many waters,” and this is later interpreted in Revelation 17:15,
15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”
Hence, just as the harlot herself is not literal, neither are these waters on which she sits. The metaphor is seen in Isaiah 57:20, 21,
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet; and its waters toss up refuse and mud. 21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
As long as the nations are in rebellion against the Creator and the Messiah, refusing to be ruled by the divine law, there can be no lasting peace. It is only when the Prince of Peace rules that we will enter an era of peace. This is prophesied in Genesis 49:10 in the prophecy of the coming of “Shiloh,” a word that is based on shalom, “peace,” and speaks of the Prince of Peace. It is illustrated later by Solomon’s reign of peace.
The harlot not only sits on “many waters,” but also is seen “sitting on a scarlet beast” in Revelation 17:3,
3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.
The scarlet beast, then, is the equivalent of the waters. The difference is that the waters speak generally of the nations in turmoil, while the scarlet beast seems to speak more specifically of a group of nations. That this is the same woman as in verse 1 is evident in verse 5, where we see her labeled on her forehead. She is not only a “great harlot,” but is also “the mother of harlots.” She runs a kind of spiritual brothel for the kings of the earth.
Redeeming the Harlot
The harlot metaphor invokes specific laws by which Babylon is judged. The prophets speak of idolatry as adultery and harlotry. Idols are also called “abominations,” and in 2 Kings 23:13 the Septuagint uses the same Greek word (bdelugma) that John uses in Revelation 17:4. To worship idols or false gods was to commit adultery against the God who had married Israel at Sinai.
Hosea was a prophet to the House of Israel, whom God (Christ) had married. Hosea married a harlot (Hosea 1:2) in order to illustrate God’s failed marriage with Israel. His life experience set a prophetic precedent for future things—the great divorce (Hosea 2:2), sending her out of the house (Hosea 2:14), and finally redeeming her from bondage (Hosea 3:1, 2).
We see in Hosea the story of the redemption of the harlot, and this forms the backdrop for the book of Revelation as well, though few have eyes to see past the time of judgment. Yet it is the Redemption Angel who reveals these things to John and who also begins the judgment of the first bowl of wine. His ultimate purpose is to redeem not only the House of Israel, but all that was lost in Adam—that is, the whole earth. Meanwhile, however, as with Hosea’s wife, there is a time of divine judgment which is the main theme on the surface of Revelation 17-20.
Marriage and the High Priest
Jesus Christ is our High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17). Revelation 21:9 also speaks of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The fact that our High Priest (along with His body) has a wife brings up certain legal requirements that appear to be an impediment to such a marriage. Leviticus 21:13-15 specifies what type of woman a high priest is allowed to marry:
13 And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people; 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctifies him.”
Scripture makes it clear, especially in the book of Hosea, that the House of Israel was a harlot and therefore ineligible as a wife of our great High Priest. Furthermore, Hosea 2:2 and Jeremiah 3:8 speak of Israel’s divorce, again making her ineligible. The law itself in Deuteronomy 24:4 forbids a man to take back his former wife whom he has divorced lawfully. There are many laws that raise barriers to Israel ever remarrying her original Husband or in marrying a high priest.
Yet Christ has a bride, and Hosea 2:19 says that Christ will again “betroth” her to Himself “in righteousness.” How can He do this without violating His law? The answer was not clearly revealed until Christ died on the cross and was raised again as a New Creation. This biblical enigma was covertly revealed by Isaiah, though hardly understood until centuries later. Isaiah 53 speaks of the death of the Messiah, and in the next chapter God calls Israel a “widow,” saying in Isaiah 54:4-7,
4 “Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord [Yahweh] of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. 6 For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. 7 “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.”
Here Israel is pictured as a widow, whose husband is Yahweh of hosts, “the God of all the earth.” God had forsaken Israel “for a brief moment,” on account of her adultery, but in the end “with great compassion I will gather you.” This was accomplished by a law hardly contemplated by the scribes and Pharisees in their messianic debates. Divorce papers end marriage contracts (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), but so also does death. Romans 7:2 says,
2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband.
Therefore, when Jesus Christ died, many things happened. First, Israel became a widow. Second, Israel was released from her Old Covenant marriage at Sinai. Third, Christ Himself, who had been Israel Husband, became a New Creation and was thereafter legally recognized as another Person. As such He was eligible by law to marry His former spouse, for law did not see this as a violation of Deuteronomy 24:4.
There are so many different facets of law and prophecy that are playing out at the same time that it is difficult to separate them all. Israel was divorced, but because Judah and Israel had split into two nations, the Judah portion was not divorced from God. The prophecies of the House of Israel usually follow the divorce theme, and her problem was that the law forbids a man to reclaim his divorced wife.
Judah, however, was still technically “married” when Jesus Christ died on the cross. Even though Judah had been in rebellion against Christ while hypocritically giving lip service to the law, God could not divorce Judah without endangering the legal status of Christ who yet had to be born through her. If God had divorced Judah and then later begat Christ through his ex-wife, Jesus would have been legally illegitimate.
Judah, then, became a widow after killing her Husband. She needed no divorce, because her Husband was already dead, so this, I believe, is why the New Testament says nothing about giving Judah a divorce. Nonetheless, she was cast out of the house in 70 A.D.
When Christ rose from the dead as a New Creation, He began to prepare for another great marriage. Individuals who love Him and have faith in Him as the Mediator of the New Covenant are eligible to marry Him at the wedding in Revelation 21:2, 3. This is the manner in which He will fulfill His promise to Israel, but this time the nation of Israel will be enlarged to include anyone who immigrates to the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 56:6, 7, 8). All immigrants are given equal rights in the Kingdom, because even natural-born Israelites have to come in through the New Covenant by faith in Christ. There is no difference, nor are there privileged people.
All true believers, by definition, have died legally, for Paul says in Romans 6:7, “he who died has been justified from sin” (The Emphatic Diaglott). In other words, one cannot retain the old man and expect to be a citizen of the Kingdom. The old man must die and the new man must be begotten by the Spirit in order to be eligible to receive this Kingdom inheritance. Those who think the old flesh man (Adam or Israel) will inherit the Kingdom are trying to claim the inheritance for the “harlot.”
The harlot is a counterfeit bride, whose children believe that she is the mother of the inheritors. The harlot takes many forms, all ruled by the flesh through the Old Covenant. Babylon and Jerusalem are two major forms of harlot. But they are being cast down even now and exposed by the Redemption Angel.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.