The people of Christ have another enemy-Babylon. Babylon is the name of a city, and John uses it to denote the Rome of his day, seated on her seven hills (verse 9) and on many water, i.e., on nations and kingdoms making up the Empire (verses 1, 15, 18). But Babylon, like the two beasts of chapter 13, is a symbol; not, like the first beast, a symbol of material power, nor, like the second beast, of false religion, but rather a symbol of the world’s lust, love of gain, pride and corruption. Wherever these aspects of the worldly spirit are found there is Babylon, and there God’s judgment will fall, unless men repent.
- John’s wonder at the woman (verse 6) should lead us to examine her closely. What does each feature of the picture symbolize? Contrast the woman and her brood with the woman of chapter 12 and her seed (with 17:14, cf. 12:17). What, in the face of such a foe, is the prospect before those who follow the Lamb (14:4)?
- Verses 7-13, as the interpreting angel himself admits, require for their understanding a mind that has wisdom (verse 9). Observe that two different meanings are assigned to the heads of the beast. Note carefully also the difference between the heads and the horns. The main lesson of the chapter is the certain ‘doom’ of Babylon. How is this brought about? What does this illustrate concerning God’s judgments?
- Verse 2. ‘Committed adultery’: a reference to the immoral practices that kings and rulers committed in response to the seductions of Rome.
- Verse 8. ‘Once was, now is not, and yet will come’: the beast is a satanic counterpart of God himself. See 1:4.
- Verses 10, 11. The Emperor Nero committed suicide, and the historian Tacitus says that a rumour spread abroad that he was not dead and would return. It is commonly thought that there is an allusion to this belief in verses 8a and 11. This is a satanic counterpart to the death and resurrection of Christ. Assuming that the seven kings of verse 10 were Roman emperors, the most probable theory sees in the five who ‘have fallen’, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, in the one who ‘is’, Vespasian (AD 69-79), and in the one who ‘has not yet come’, Titus. After Titus came Domitian, who would be the ‘eighth’ (verse 11), and who resembled Nero so closely, especially in his persecution of the Christians, that he might well seem to be Nero come to life again.
- Verses 15-17. The harlot city will eventually be brought down by a united revolt on the part of the provinces and their local rulers.