Verse 19 (continued): Not only will much of Jerusalem fall during this earthquake, but cities all over the world will be damaged. The antichrist’s entire empire will be devastated. They will be forced to drink from “the cup of the wine of God’s fierce wrath.” Verses 20, 21: Islands will be submerged, and mountain ranges leveled. In order for this magnitude of devastation to occur the earth’s crust must shift severely. In addition to the earthquake, catastrophic thunderstorms will produce hailstones weighing a hundred pounds a piece crushing everything in their path. With the antichrist’s army gathered in the field and exposed to the elements, the Lord will tread the “winepress” (Rev 14:20; Isa 63:2-6; Joel 3:13, 14). Even so, the hardened hearts of unbelievers respond with blasphemy rather than repentance.
Verse 1: One of the angels who poured out a bowl of wrath invited John to stand beside him so he could observe the destruction of the antichrist’s capital city. The angel calls it “the great harlot” because it will be the center of a false religious system which will turn the hearts of billions of people away from God. Throughout the Bible God compares spiritual unfaithfulness to sexual unfaithfulness (Isa 1:21; Jer 2:20; 3:1; Eze 16:15; Hos 2:5; 3:3; 4:15). Like a prostitute (harlot) that intrudes into the love between a married couple Satan seeks to take for himself the love and loyalty which humans should give only to their Creator. It must be remembered that behind the spirit of the antichrist in every age lies Satan’s desire to be worshipped in place of God. This is why the spirit of the antichrist always involves three elements: 1) attempted world-wide domination; 2) worship of the antichrist himself; and 3) an attempted annihilation of God’s people. Satan longs to possess for himself what rightfully belongs to God (Lk 4:5-8) and will stop at nothing to gain the world’s worship. Understanding this basic fact explains why the antichrist behaves as he does. Over time the man who becomes the antichrist is reduced to a puppet in Satan’s hand.
Revelation 17:1, 2
Verse 1 (continued): The “harlot” is the capital city of the antichrist’s empire. In verse 18 of this chapter we’re told, “the woman you saw is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” The city is called “Babylon” (v 5) but it’s not clear whether or not this refers to the literal city of Babylon or whether the term is applied to his capital city because it is the final expression of the spirit which first tried to seize the earth at the tower of Babel (Ge 11:1-9). In either case it is a “harlot” for reasons mentioned above, and it will be the center of an empire which rules over “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (v 15). Verse 2: The rulers of all the nations of the earth will fall under the deceptive control of the antichrist like a drunken person falls under the spell of alcohol. Like a drunkard, the peoples of the earth will do things they would not normally do because they were “made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
Verse 3: John is now carried into a vision in which he sees the antichrist’s empire pictured in prophetic symbols. He sees “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.” These are images we have seen before (Rev 12:3; 13:1). The woman is the antichrist’s capital city and the religious center of his empire. The scarlet beast is the empire itself which has so fallen under the control of Satan that it has taken on the scarlet color which characterizes him (Rev 12:3, 9; 13:1). It is “full of blasphemous names” because the antichrist has taken to himself names and titles which rightfully belong only to God (Da 7:8, 11, 20; 11:36, 37; Mt 24:23, 24; 2Th 2:4). The “seven heads and ten horns” are symbols we have seen before, but here in chapter 17 they are explained more fully to give us a chilling insight into the antichrist’s historical origin (vs 9-13).
Verse 4: “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls...” because the antichrist’s capital city will be filled with symbols of wealth and luxury. Until God destroys it, it will be the religious, economic, military and political center of the world. In the woman’s hand John sees a “gold cup full of abominations and the unclean things of her immorality.” Again we’re reminded that from this city will flow a spiritual influence that will corrupt the nations of the earth and will ultimately bring damnation on its followers.
Verse 5: John is told that the name written on the forehead of this “woman” is a “mystery,” meaning it contains a hidden spiritual insight. The name “Babylon” identifies this capital city with the ancient struggle between God and the spirit of the antichrist. Beginning with Nimrod at the tower of Babel (Ge 10:8-11; 11:1-9) and including (but not limited to) the beasts listed in Daniel 7:4-6 (Babylon, Medo/Persia, Greece) the “mystery of lawlessness,” as Paul calls it (2Th 2:7), has repeatedly tried to rise up and conquer the earth. During the final seven-year period God will allow this evil longing to express itself through the antichrist, making his capital the true and final “Babylon.” It will be the poisonous fruit of a plant which has been growing throughout human history. It is also called the “Mother of Harlots” because it has spawned many false religions over the centuries, and it is the “Mother...of Abominations” because it has repeatedly called down God’s judgment with its blasphemies and the martyrdom of His people.
Verse 6: The antichrist will so organize his empire that those who do not worship his image will be easily identified and killed (Rev 13:15-17). The religious genocide he initiates will be so effective that if it were not halted by God no believers would be left alive (Mt 24:21, 22). In effect, a Christian “holocaust” will be conducted leaving this city and the cities of its empire “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Verse 7: The vision of the woman leaves John longing to know more (v 6), and seeing this the angel tells John he will give him further insight into the symbols contained in the vision.