ON THIS PAGE
Introduction... The Chronology of Revelation
Revelation Chapter 17 - The Great Harlot
The Great City... The Original Babylon, The Roman Catholic Church, Jerusalem
Introduction... The Chronology of Revelation
Apart from the symbolism, one of the difficulties in understanding the book of Revelation is that not all the events, nor chapters, are in chronological order (also true of some other books of the Bible). For example, chapter 16 describes the Seven Bowls which symbolize the final plagues poured out by God on this planet. However, the only event that follows this final outpouring of God's wrath is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. (DETAILS)
In the book of Revelation, chapters 17 and 18 are not part of the chronological sequence, but are a break taken in the sequence of events to describe something very significant that we need to pay close attention to. In fact, these two chapters could very well be described as the 'Two Babylons'.
Chapter 17 deals with the spiritual side of Babylon.... a false religious system, while chapter 18 deals with Babylon as a political and commercial system. They are two faces of the same coin... the first apostasy of all kind including the worship of false gods. The second founded on values that are antithetical to God.
Although much prophecy is not completely understood until after it has been fulfilled, considering the fact that the Lord devotes two chapters to these "Babylons" makes it imperative that we ensure we at least grasp the broad outlines of the message that is being given us. In fact, make no mistake... these chapters are a crucial warning dealing, as they do, with specific targets of the wrath of God.
Revelation Chapter 17
Chapter 17 can be divided into two parts. Verses 1-6 recount the details of John's vision...
(1) Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will 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." (3) And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. (4) The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, (5) and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth." (6) And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. (Revelation 17:1-6 NASB)
.... while verses 7-18, are the angel's explanation of what John saw.
(7) And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. (8) "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (9) "Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, (10) and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. (11) "The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. (12) "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. (13) "These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. (14) "These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful." (15) And he *said to me, "The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. (16) "And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. (17) "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. (18) "The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Revelation 17:7-18 NASB)
There is no question that the vision can be extremely perplexing, and that the angel's explanation doesn't seem to throw much light on it. However, breaking the vision down into it's component parts helps dispel some of the mystery. Perhaps the easiest to understand is the woman herself.
The Woman... The Great Harlot
John's vision in chapter 17 is centered around a richly dressed woman called the "the great harlot". John says that when he saw the woman he "wondered greatly", which indicates that he may not have known what she represented.
There are several points to be noted about this woman, who was sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast. She is also described as sitting on many waters (V. 1), which are defined in V. 15 as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues". Additionally, she was dressed in purple and scarlet, bedecked with much jewelry (V. 4), was drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (V. 6). Eventually, she is turned on, and destroyed, by the beast and his allies (V.16).
To start with we need to examine how the Bible uses the term "harlot".
In the Bible, fornication, adultery, and harlotry are used in both the physical and the spiritual sense. Apart from the relatively few references to actual prostitution (Rahab for example), the Old Testament most often uses the word "harlot" in a metaphorical sense to depict Israel turning it's back on Yahweh, whoring after false gods and man made religions and/or messing with the occult (underlined below).
otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, (Exodus 34:15 NASB)
As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. (Leviticus 20:6 NASB)
Since Israel had a binding covenant with God, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and especially Ezekiel, repeatedly denounced the nation's idolatry, apostasy, and spiritual unfaithfulness as 'harlotry' (Ezekiel 16 is particularly graphic).
Your own wickedness will correct you, And your apostasies will reprove you; Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter For you to forsake the Lord your God, And the dread of Me is not in you," declares the Lord God of hosts. "For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, 'I will not serve!' For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot. (Jeremiah 2:19-20 NASB)
These things will be done to you because you have played the harlot with the nations, because you have defiled yourself with their idols. (Ezekiel 23:30 NASB)
In addition, the context of Isaiah chapter one makes it clear that a departure from the spirit of the law was also defined as 'harlotry'... Although the people physically went through the motions of the prescribed rituals, their hearts were hardened and they no longer cared about the most helpless among them, nor about justice.
How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21 NASB)
In other words, in the Old Testament, the harlot was a standard symbol for apostasy of all kinds. Which brings up one question...
Can Pagan Nations Indulge in "Harlotry" ?
Most commentators believe that in order for a people to indulge in "harlotry" they had to have first been in a covenant relationship with God. However, other nations that never worshipped, nor were previously in any kind of relationship with Yahweh, were also accused of the "harlotry" of worshipping other gods. Two examples come to mind... the ancient city of Tyre, and the nations that occupied Canaan.
Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. "But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim --for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God-- otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods. (Exodus 34:12-16 NASB)
Now in that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot: Take your harp, walk about the city, O forgotten harlot; Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. It will come about at the end of seventy years that the Lord will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her harlot's wages and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. (Isaiah 23:15-17 NASB)
The Great City
hat the woman in John's vision represents spiritual adultery is of little doubt. However, this is slightly complicated by the fact that the woman is also identified as "the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth", specifically Babylon
and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth." (Revelation 17:5 NASB)
The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Revelation 17:18 NASB)
Considering the highly symbolic nature of Revelation, one has to ask whether "Babylon" refers to a physical city. Among those who believe it does, opinion is usually divided between 1) the original city of Babylon, 2) Rome or, more specifically, the Roman Catholic church, and 3) Jerusalem.
However, none of these options are without merit, nor without problems.
1) The Original Babylon
Ancient Babylon, one of the glories of the ancient world, is located a few miles south of Baghdad, in what is now Iraq. It was once the
"... capital of 10 dynasties in Mesopotamia, considered one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the birthplace of writing and literature. 
This came to an abrupt end when, in fulfillment of the prophecies made in Isaiah 13-14 and Jeremiah 50 and 51, Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and the Persians, the breast and arms of silver in Nebuchadnezzar's dream [See Daniel Sets The Stage in Chapter ‘Seven Kings’)
However, Isaiah’s prophecy was a very long ranging one, covering not only the physical fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian empire, but a period of time well beyond that event. The ancient prophet foretold (13:19-22) that Babylon would never be lived in by any but desert creatures. Certainly, the empire has long ceased to exist. The Persians fell to Alexander the Great in 331 BC. As said by Joshua Mark who teaches ancient history, writing, literature, and philosophy
After Alexander's death at Babylon, his successors fought over his empire generally and the city specifically to the point where the residents fled for their safety (or, according to one ancient report, were re-located). By the time the Parthian Empire ruled the region in 141 BCE Babylon was deserted and forgotten. The city steadily fell into ruin and, even during a brief revival under the Sassanid Persians, never approached its former greatness. In the Muslim conquest of the land in 650 CE whatever remained of Babylon was swept away and, in time, was buried beneath the sands. 
In fact, the city remained buried until the late 1800s, when archaeologists rediscovered the site.
Although prophecy buffs predict that Babylon will rise again to become headquarters for the end time world system, I doubt it is as simple as that. It is true that Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city on top of the old ruins, but the US led invasion not only put an end to that project, but caused widespread damage to the ancient ruins. Parts of the archaeological site were leveled to create a landing area for helicopters, and parking lots for heavy vehicles. Trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects probably destroyed fragile ruins just below the surface. Massive widespread looting about finished what was left. 
And yes, Iraq is attempting to rebuild Babylon. However a 2006 New York Times article reported that Iraqi leaders and UN officials (Emphasis Added)
"....are working assiduously to restore Babylon, home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They want to turn it into a cultural center and possibly even an Iraqi theme park" 
And as a more recent article reports, all the re-building is aimed at eventually "attracting scores of "cultural tourists" from all over the world to see the glories of Mesopotamia's most famous city" , which I am afraid, is rather an ignominious end to Babylon, once called "the glory of the Chaldeans' pride"... the most powerful city in the world.
2) The Roman Catholic Church:
It is true that there are several very compelling reasons to believe that Rome is symbolically represented by the woman/great city/Babylon.
1) "Mystery" is Commonly Associated With Rome
"Mystery," the name imprinted on the woman's forehead is at the very heart of Roman Catholicism. For example, as said by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
The words “mysterium fidei”, not found in the biblical institution narrative, have been embedded in the formula of consecration of the chalice since at least the 7th century. They were displaced in the 20th.... 
As Dave Hunt says in his book A Woman Rides the Beast
"Every sacrament, from baptism to extreme unction, manifests the mysterious power which the faithful must believe the priests wield, but for which there is no visible evidence. Rome's new Catechism explains that liturgy "aims to initiate souls into the mystery of Christ " and that all of the Church's liturgy is "mystery" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Wanderer Press, 1994, para. 1075). 
2) Rome Sits on "Many Waters"
As Dave hunt also wrote
"The Catholic Church, is very much of this world. Her popes have built an unrivaled worldwide empire of property, wealth, and influence. Nor is empire building an abandoned feature of the past.... Vatican II clearly states that the Roman Catholic Church today still ceaselessly seeks to bring under its control all mankind and all their goods".
One eighteenth-century historian counted 95 popes who claimed to have divine power to depose kings and emperors. Gregory IX (1227-41) thundered that the pope was Lord and master of everyone and everything. Pope Nicholas I (858-67) declared: "We [popes) alone have the power to bind and to loose, to absolve Nero and to condemn him; and Christians cannot, under penalty of excommunication, execute other judgment than ours, which alone is infallible." In commanding one king to destroy another, Nicholas wrote:
"We order you, in the name of religion, to invade his states, burn his cities, and massacre his people" (Cormenin, History of the Popes, p. 243, as cited in R.W. Thompson, op. cit., p. 368). 
And in more recent years.. Pope John Paul II's bizarre involvement with other religions caused even many Catholics to call Pope John Paul II the Anti Pope... (See The Two Faces of Catholicism)
3) Catholic Bishops and Cardinals Wear Purple and Scarlet and A Cross With Diamonds
In the Catholic church the bishops and other prelates wear purple, while the cardinals wear scarlet. The Catholic Encyclopedia says, the Crux Pectoralis, or pectoral cross is
The name of the cross used by the pope, cardinals, bishops, abbots, and other prelates entitled to use the pontifical insignia. It is worn on the breast attached to a chain or silken cord, the colour differing, according to the dignity of the wearer, i.e. green, violet, or black. It is made of precious metal, ornamented, more or less, with diamonds, pearls, or similar embellishment. 
Besides which, the value of innumerable sculptures by such masters as Michelangelo, paintings by the world's greatest artists, and countless other art treasures and ancient documents which Rome possesses (not only at the Vatican but in cathedrals around the world) is beyond calculation. The fabulous treasure of Lourdes [France) alone are said to be of inestimable value.
4) The Woman Held a Gold Cup
This brings to mind the chalice which is said to be the most important of the sacred vessels. And that the church possess many thousands of solid gold chalices kept in its churches around the world.
5)The Golden Cup Was Full Of Abominations, Even The Unclean Things Of Her Fornication...
"The Roman Catholic Church has insisted upon celibacy even though many popes, among them Sergius III (904-11), John X (914-28), John XII (955-63), Benedict V (964), Innocent VIII (1484-92), Urban VIII (1623-44), and Innocent X (1644-55), as well as millions of cardinals, bishops, archbishops, monks, and priests throughout history, have repeatedly violated such vows. History is replete with sayings that mocked the church's false claim to celibacy and revealed the truth: "The holiest hermit has his whore" and "Rome has more prostitutes than any other city because she has the most celibates" are examples. Pius II declared that Rome was "the only city run by bastards" [sons of popes and cardinals). Catholic historian and former Jesuit Peter de Rosa writes:
"Popes had mistresses of fifteen years of age, were guilty of incest and sexual perversions of every sort, had innumerable children, were murdered in the very act of adultery (by jealous husbands who found them in bed with their wives). In the old Catholic phrase, why be holier than the pope?" (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy, Crown Publishers, 1988, pp. 396-97). 
6) The Woman Is Drunk With "The Blood Of The Saints, and With The Blood Of The Martyrs Of Jesus..."
In his History of the Inquisition, Canon Llorente, who was the Secretary to the Inquisition in Madrid from 1790-1792, and had access to the archives of all the tribunals, estimated that, in Spain alone, the number of condemned exceeded 3 million, with about 300,000 burned at the stake (R.W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power, New York, 1876, p. 82).
Catholic historian Peter de Rosa acknowledges that his own Catholic Church "was responsible for persecuting Jews, for the Inquisition, for slaughtering heretics by the thousand, for reintroducing torture into Europe as part of the judicial process." Yet the Roman Catholic Church has never officially admitted that these practices were evil, nor has she apologized to the world or to any of the victims or their descendants....
In 1096 Pope Urban III inspired the first crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. With the cross on their shields and armor, the Crusaders massacred Jews across Europe on their way to the Holy Land. Almost their first act upon taking Jerusalem "for Holy Mother Church" was to herd all of the Jews into the synagogue and set it ablaze.
Nor can the Vatican escape considerable responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust, which was thoroughly known to Pius XII in spite of his complete silence throughout the war on the most important of subjects (E.g. Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, McGraw-Hill, 1964, pp. 300-04). 
1) Rome Was Never Called Babylon
Some commentators believe that Babylon was simply another name for Rome, perhaps because, under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and ransacked the Temple, while Rome destroyed the second Temple in 70 Ad, under Titus. This has led many to believe that Peter's first letter in which he sends greeting from someone in "Babylon", was written from Rome. (The 'she' could have been the church or a woman)
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. (1 Peter 5:13 NASB)
However, several facts are against this conclusion. a) There is no indication that Rome was ever known as Babylon, therefore those who read this letter would, in all probability, have understood "Babylon" to mean the well-known city on the Euphrates. b) Rome is called by its proper name several times in the New Testament. Why would it, on this one occasion, be called "Babylon"? Especially since... c) Peter refers to other places by their proper names in the same book (See 1 Peter 1:1).
2) The Seven Hills Are Not Hills, But Kings
Since the woman rides on a beast which is said to have seven heads (Vs. 3) which are "are seven mountains on which the woman sits", commentators tend to associate these seven mountains with Rome which being built on seven hills, is often called the "City of Seven Hills".
However, since Rome itself is no different from hundreds of other large secular cities around the world, many believe that the reference is to the Vatican, not the city itself, especially since "Rome" and the "Vatican" are used interchangeably. Besides which, the Vatican is the only sovereign city-state that is the spiritual hub, and the center of the government, of a major religion. In fact, Catholicism pretty much begins and ends with the Vatican.
Not only have quite a few cities have been built on seven hills [See Footnote I], but if one were to read the rest of the verse, it becomes obvious that the seven heads of the beast boil down to being 'seven kings' which have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic church. See Seven Kings on THIS page
"...The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. (Revelation 17:9-10 NASB)
Some believe that the woman of Revelation 17 represents Jerusalem, because Jerusalem ...
1) Was Called The Great City
The Old Testament refers to several cities as a "great city". For example, Resen in Genesis 10:12, Gibeon in Joshua 10:2, Nineveh in Jonah 1:2 , 3:2-3, 4:11, and Jerusalem in Jeremiah 22:8. Nevertheless, since that was where Jesus was crucified, only Jerusalem can be "the great city" of Revelation 11:8.
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:8 NASB)
2) Was A Spiritual Harlot
The prophet Isaiah specifically referred to Jerusalem as being a spiritual harlot
How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21 NASB)
3) Killed the Prophets
In Luke 11:47-51, and 13:34 Jesus charged Jerusalem with killing the prophets.
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.' (Luke 11:47-51 NASB) Also see Matthew 23:35
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Luke 13:34 NASB)
These words, from the mouth of the Savior Himself, are often equated with Babylon shedding the blood of the prophets and saints in Revelation 17:6 and 18:24...
And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. (Revelation 17:6 NASB)
And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth. (Revelation 18:24 NASB)
4) Aaron and His Sons wore Purple And Scarlet
Additionally, Revelation 17:4 and 18:16 say that the harlot is dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls. In the Old Testament, the garments that Aaron and his sons wore to minister as priests, were made in gold, blue, purple, and scarlet. However, there is no mention of precious stones or pearls.
These are the garments which they shall make: a breast piece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me. "They shall take the gold and the blue and the purple and the scarlet material and the fine linen. (Exodus 28:4-5 NASB)
For the following reasons, I find it very unlikely that Revelation 17:6 and 18:24 are speaking about Jerusalem.
1) Jerusalem Is Not Responsible For the Blood of All Who Have Been Slain
The book of Revelation shows us what will happen in the future. Therefore, when it says the harlot was "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (17:6), the slain have to include those who have not yet been killed, but who will be.
Additionally, 18:24 accuses Babylon of being guilty, not only of the blood of the prophets and saints, but "all who have been slain on the earth" which indicates worldwide, evil. which is hardly applicable to Jerusalem.
Although they were responsible for the blood of the prophets, the Jews did not kill anywhere near the number of 'saints' as did many other groups. For example, ancient Rome was responsible for the death of many thousands of Christians. The historian Josephus reported that "all the prisoners taken from beginning to end of the war totalled 97,000; those who perished in the long siege 1,100,000."  Although it is possible that Josephus was exaggerating to some extent, he does give a valid reason for the vast number of Jews present in the city... It was the Feast of Unleavened Bread for which Jews poured into Jerusalem from all over the country. And, in the years since, multitudes of Christians have been martyred at the hands of various regimes and nations.
Besides which, Jeremiah very clearly states that Babylon will also fall for for the slain of the world and the slain of Israel.
2) Jerusalem Never Has Ruled Over The Kings Of The Earth.
Revelation 17:18 says "The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth".
Jerusalem has never 'ruled over' the kings of the earth. Much to the contrary Jerusalem has been one of the most trampled upon cities, devastated and/or occupied by foreign powers throughout much of her history.
Some believe that the point John was trying to make was
Israel was intended to be the leading nation of the world. She had a covenantal right and responsibility to govern the world (Isa 42:6; 60:15)... She was supposed to be the leader in wisdom and righteousness". 
If that was what John was trying to say... that is what he would have said. We really need to stop putting words into the mouth of the authors of the Bible, since they were perfectly capable of clearly expressing the message that God Himself intended them to convey. In this case, John's wording was very precise..... "the great city reigns over the kings of the earth", not "the great city was intended to reign".
(This, unfortunately, is an all too common problem in the church today. We fix on one idea, then when a particular passage clearly contradicts our theory, we have to figure out how to 'interpret' this passage so that it falls in line with what we have already decided to believe. While this may not always be done intentionally, it is still very, very wrong).
In this case, the statement that the great city "reigns over the kings of the earth" is more than enough to dismiss Jerusalem as a candidate.
3) Jerusalem is Not The 'Mother' of Harlots.
Israel's harlotry was clearly influenced by the nations directly descended from Canaan.
Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations and say, thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, "Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite". (Ezekiel 16:2-3 NASB)
Behold, everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb concerning you, saying, 'Like mother, like daughter.' You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and children. You are also the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. (Ezekiel 16:44-45 NASB)
4) The OT Makes A Clear Distinction Between Babylon and Israel
There are a considerable number of Old Testament passages that distinguish between Babylon, the object of the Lord's wrath, and Israel that will be avenged. For example...
For neither Israel nor Judah has been forsaken By his God, the Lord of hosts, although their land is full of guilt Before the Holy One of Israel. Flee from the midst of Babylon, And each of you save his life! Do not be destroyed in her punishment, For this is the Lord's time of vengeance; He is going to render recompense to her. (Jeremiah 51:5-6 NASB)
But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:24 NASB)
Indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel, As also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen. (Jeremiah 51:49 NASB)
Add to this the fact that Jerusalem is destined to be restored (Isaiah 62:1) and serve as the capital of the Millennial Kingdom, whereas Babylon is never to be inhabited again, and the idea that the phrase that "great city" describes Jerusalem is untenable.
Therefore, if not the physical city of Babylon, nor Jerusalem or Rome in particular, what does the Woman/Great City symbolize?
The Fourth Option... Spiritual Apostasy
As we all know, "Rome" does not necessarily mean a city in Italy, but can refer to the Vatican, Hollywood is not just a town in California, but can also means the motion picture business, "Wall Street" refers to American finance in general, and "Madison Avenue" stands for the American advertising industry. In the same way, "Babylon" does not just have to be the name of an ancient city in the Middle East, but can very well symbolize an entire 'religious' system that is in complete opposition to God.
The Mother of Harlots Sits On Many Waters
The fact that the harlot of Revelation 17 is described as sitting on many waters [V. 1), defined in V. 15 as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues", quite clearly points to a global influence. Similarly, in verse 5, the harlot is called the "Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth", which indicates that spiritual apostasy and everything that accompanies it, stems from her.
Although Catholicism is the source of a tremendous amount of false doctrine, the roots of spiritual apostasy go back much further than the beginning of the church. Jerusalem's harlotry was confined to their borders, and didn't spread to even neighboring nations, much less over all the earth. Which is why the fourth option... the "great city" is symbolic for all the spiritual apostasy (harlotry) that has taken place over the centuries, culminating in today's 'New Age' is the most likely of all the options.
But how did "Babylon the great", written on the harlot's forehead, come to refer to collective spiritual apostasy?
In order to answer that we have to peer back into the mists of antiquity...
Going Back To The Beginning
The book of Genesis traces the generations of Noah's offspring, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and the sons that were born to them after the flood. (Genesis 10:1).
1) Shem: We know that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (thus the entire nation of Israel) were descended from Shem through his son Arphaxad. See Genesis 11: 10-26
However, nothing much positive can be said of the lines of Ham and Japeth
2) Japeth: The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras (1 Chronicles 1:5). Years later, the prophet Ezekiel was instructed to set his face "toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him" (Ezekiel 38:2 NASB)
3) Ham: Ham had four sons Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan (Genesis 10:6). While nothing is known about Put, Mizraim became the father of several sons including Casluhim from whom came the Philistines (Genesis 10:13-14).
And, we all know, or should know, what a great problem the Canaanites were. As previously noted, Israel's harlotry was clearly influenced by the nations directly descended from Canaan. Additionally, when it came time for two of the Patriarchs to find wives for their sons, both men were very specific that wives would not be chosen from the Canaanite women... Abraham made his servant swear that he would not pick a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites, and Isaac, in turn, instructed his son Jacob not to choose a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Obviously, something was very wrong with the Canaanites.
See The Days Of Noah
However, it is the last son, Cush, that concerns us here because he became the father of
Nimrod: founder of several kingdoms, including Babylon and Assyria.
Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. (Genesis 10:8-12 NASB)
In fact the prophet Micah called Assyria the "land of Nimrod".
They will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, The land of Nimrod at its entrances; nd He will deliver us from the Assyrian When he attacks our land And when he tramples our territory. (Micah 5:6 NASB)
Both Babylon and Assyria were mortal enemies of Israel and Judah. Israel, or the Northern Kingdom, made up of 10 of the tribes (excluding Judah and Benjamin) was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. Much of the population was deported, although some are said to have fled south to Judah and Egypt.
The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem itself for over a year, killed many people, destroyed the temple and made off with the all-important vessels used in the service of God. Nebuchadnezzar not left Jerusalem in ruins, but took captive many thousands of Jews, including the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel. This invasion was the temporary triumph of man's kingdom over God's kingdom, heralding as it did, the beginning of the Gentile domination of Jerusalem.
However, the earliest indication that we have of something very wrong with Babylon is in the 11th chapter of the very first book of the Bible... the account of the building of the Tower of Babel.
From Babel To Babylon NEXT
Footnote I... "City of Seven Hills"
The term "City of Seven Hills" usually refers to Rome. However, quite a few cities have been built on seven hills.. Rome, Amman, Lisbon, Kampala, Rio de Janeiro, and Edinburgh (actually a series of extinct volcanoes). It is also said that the city of Jerusalem was originally built between seven hills, all of which are said to be included in the municipal boundaries of modern Jerusalem. Also interesting is the fact that Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) has also been nicknamed "The City on Seven Hills" because the historic peninsula, the oldest part of the city, was built on seven hills, represented in the city's emblem that has seven triangles, above which rise four minarets. [See The Seven hills of Istanbul on Wikipedia]
Endnotes. Chapter 17
 Arwa Damon, CNN. Bringing Babylon back from the dead. Updated 10:59 PM EDT, Thu April 4, 2013.
 Joshua J. Mark, Babylon. Published 28 April 2011 on the Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited, a non-profit organization registered in the UK. http://www.ancient.eu.com/babylon/
 For Details See US occupation damages ancient sites at Babylon. Imperialism and cultural vandalism in Iraq By Harvey Thompson
26 January 2005 AND http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2005/01/arch-j26.html and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4461755.stm
 Jeffrey Gettleman. Unesco intends to put the magic back in Babylon. Published: Thursday, April 13, 2006.
 Mark Hitchcock. The End of Money: Bible Prophecy and the Coming Economic Collapse Paperback – August 1, 2013 . Harvest House Publishers; Reprint edition (August 1, 2013). Pg. 153.
 Fr. Z's Blog. Mysterium fidei: some thoughts. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/11/mysterium-fidei-some-thoughts/
 Dave Hunt. A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days. Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 15, 1994). Pg. 68. The first chapter is online here.. http://jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Roman%20Catholicism/a_woman_rides_the_beast.htm AND here http://www.cuttingedge.org/womanRidesBeast.htm
 ibid. Pgs 84-85.
 Braun, Joseph. "Pectorale." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 17 Apr. 2014
 Dave Hunt. A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days. Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 15, 1994). Pg 74
 ibid. Pgs.78, 90,
 Flavius Josephus. The Jewish War: Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (February 7, 1984) [Paperback] Pg. 371
 Keith Krell. senior pastor of Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane, WA. Use It or Lose It! (Revelation 17-18).