New American Bible (Revised Edition)
V. The Punishment of Babylon and the Destruction of Pagan Nations
Babylon the Great. 1 [a]Then one of the seven angels who were holding the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come here. I will show you the judgment on the great harlot[b] who lives near the many waters.(A) 2 [c]The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her,(B) and the inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry.” 3 Then he carried me away in spirit to a deserted place where I saw a woman seated on a scarlet beast[d] that was covered with blasphemous names, with seven heads and ten horns.(C) 4 The woman was wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls.(D) She held in her hand a gold cup that was filled with the abominable and sordid deeds of her harlotry. 5 On her forehead was written a name, which is a mystery, “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” 6 [e]I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.
Meaning of the Beast and Harlot.[f] When I saw her I was greatly amazed. 7 The angel said to me, “Why are you amazed? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns. 8 [g](E)The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss and is headed for destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world shall be amazed when they see the beast, because it existed once but exists no longer, and yet it will come again. 9 Here is a clue[h] for one who has wisdom. The seven heads represent seven hills upon which the woman sits. They also represent seven kings:(F) 10 five have already fallen, one still lives, and the last has not yet come,[i] and when he comes he must remain only a short while. 11 The beast[j] that existed once but exists no longer is an eighth king, but really belongs to the seven and is headed for destruction. 12 The ten horns that you saw represent ten kings who have not yet been crowned;[k] they will receive royal authority along with the beast for one hour.(G) 13 They are of one mind and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will fight with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.”(H)
15 Then he said to me, “The waters that you saw where the harlot lives represent large numbers of peoples, nations, and tongues. 16 The ten horns[l] that you saw and the beast will hate the harlot; they will leave her desolate and naked; they will eat her flesh and consume her with fire.(I) 17 For God has put it into their minds to carry out his purpose and to make them come to an agreement to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are accomplished. 18 The woman whom you saw represents the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.”
- 17:1–19:10 The punishment of Babylon is now described as a past event and, metaphorically, under the image of the great harlot who leads people astray into idolatry.
- 17:1–6 Babylon, the symbolic name (Rev 17:5) of Rome, is graphically described as “the great harlot.”
- 17:2 Intercourse…harlotry: see note on Rev 14:4. The pagan kings subject to Rome adopted the cult of the emperor.
- 17:3 Scarlet beast: see note on Rev 13:1–10. Blasphemous names: divine titles assumed by the Roman emperors; see note on Rev 13:5–6.
- 17:6 Reference to the great wealth and idolatrous cults of Rome.
- 17:6b–18 An interpretation of the vision is here given.
- 17:8 Allusion to the belief that the dead Nero would return to power (Rev 17:11); see note on Rev 13:3.
- 17:9 Here is a clue: literally, “Here a mind that has wisdom.” Seven hills: of Rome.
- 17:10 There is little agreement as to the identity of the Roman emperors alluded to here. The number seven (Rev 17:9) suggests that all the emperors are meant; see note on Rev 1:4.
- 17:11 The beast: Nero; see note on Rev 17:8.
- 17:12–13 Ten kings who have not yet been crowned: perhaps Parthian satraps who are to accompany the revived Nero (the beast) in his march on Rome to regain power; see note on Rev 13:3. In Rev 19:11–21, the Lamb and his companions will conquer them.
- 17:16–18 The ten horns: the ten pagan kings (Rev 17:12) who unwittingly fulfill God’s will against harlot Rome, the great city; cf. Ez 16:37.