This is another chapter that seems so hard to understand, but John gives us some clues. Rome is the city with 7 hills – which lets us know that the churches in John’s day were suffering, and that the book of Revelation is about the time that John is living in.
This is how prophecy works – the prophet is giving a message to his own time – either the present or pretty quick future – which then is understood to also have implications for the distant future. The book of Revelation clearly speaks to the distant (eternal) future – especially chapters 20-22. But the majority of the book is speaking to the 7 churches John is writing to – they are being persecuted by the Romans, probably under Nero, and they need encouragement to stand strong and not lose hope – even when their family and fellow Christians are being persecuted, tortured, and killed.
Understood this way, the chapter becomes clearer – Rome – the great city that the whole world has followed, will soon be attacked, and the kings that are against God’s people will soon fall. Stay strong! God is in control, and He will not let His Word or people fail. The Church outlasted the Roman Empire – and it will outlast all the nations of the world – stay strong! And know God is with you.
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New Living Translation
The Great Prostitute
1One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls came over and spoke to me. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. 2The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.”
3So the angel took me in the Spirita into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. 4The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. 5A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” 6I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement.
7“Why are you so amazed?” the angel asked. “I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns on which she sits. 8The beast you saw was once alive but isn’t now. And yet he will soon come up out of the bottomless pitb and go to eternal destruction. And the people who belong to this world, whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made, will be amazed at the reappearance of this beast who had died.
9“This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings. 10Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief.
11“The scarlet beast that was, but is no longer, is the eighth king. He is like the other seven, and he, too, is headed for destruction. 12The ten horns of the beast are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. They will be appointed to their kingdoms for one brief moment to reign with the beast. 13They will all agree to give him their power and authority. 14Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.”
15Then the angel said to me, “The waters where the prostitute is ruling represent masses of people of every nation and language. 16The scarlet beast and his ten horns all hate the prostitute. They will strip her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her remains with fire. 17For God has put a plan into their minds, a plan that will carry out his purposes. They will agree to give their authority to the scarlet beast, and so the words of God will be fulfilled. 18And this woman you saw in your vision represents the great city that rules over the kings of the world.”