The Scarlet Woman
By Keith Malcomson
Revelation chapter 17 is a vital portion of prophetic scripture and understanding this one chapter will open up the Book of Revelation to many in a new and clear way. In this chapter, we have the vision that John saw as well as the interpretation which the Angel gave to him (v7). We do not need to give our own interpretation of the symbols for that is given to us and is also confirmed by other Scriptures. The Bible is its own interpreter.
Who is the woman?
She is a great City
First of all we see in v18 that the woman is a city, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city.” This city he talks of can be identified by a few simple facts. First it was a city of which John himself knew and it was the great city in John’s day: “which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Which city ruled over kings in John’s day? Which city sat at the centre of Imperial power which even dominated Jerusalem and Israel? It was of course Rome.
That great city of John’s day will be in existence at the end of time and holding the very same influence, power and importance as Rome did under the Caesars. We know that Imperial Rome with her Caesars ceased to exist, but in its place arose Papal Rome. Rome as a city has remained a world power through more than 2000 years of history, first as a Pagan Empire but then as a Religious power. This is the city of Revelation 17.
We see that this city is: “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:” This is interpreted by the Angel in v15, “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” She holds a great sway over multitudes of people of every nation and language. Her influence is international or universal. This was true of Rome and is still true now of Papal Rome.
Ancient Rome spread her influence across the Middle East, almost all of Europe, and across North Africa. Today the city of Rome stands at the centre of an international empire that spans the globe.
The beast she rode upon had seven heads. This is interpreted in v9, “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” This is the interpretation. These are seven literal mountains. Again the city of Rome in John’s day, and our day, was and is renowned for sitting upon seven mountains.
History and recent archaeology reveal that originally there were separate protected settlements on these seven hills which eventually united to form Rome. According to history a feast called the Septimontium (seven mountains) was held annually to commemorate the building of a city wall circling these seven hills. Thereafter this festival was held in late December and marked out the city to be known for its seven hills. On this day sacrifices were offered on the seven hills to their gods in thanks for the founding of the city.
On Roman coins from John’s day we see the city depicted as a woman sitting on seven hills. From the days of John and for hundreds of years after, all the great Roman poets called Rome the “the Seven-hilled City.” In more recent times a popuar musical was filmed called the Seven Hills of Rome. This city has also been called the Eternal City, the Sacred City, and the Capital of the world.
What is amazing is that this very city which existed in John’s day is seen coming into full sight with great power at the end of time. This city seen as the Imperial city of the Roman Empire in John’s day was revealed to him in vision at the end of time just before her destruction and the return of Jesus. It was quite clear to John that he was seeing this great city at the end of time but pictured as the Great Harlot, Mystery Babylon.
The fact that we are told three times where she sits in connection with three different things, the waters, the beast and the mountains, should be enough confirmation to identify this city and system beyond doubt.
She is a Church
If Rome is the city described then it is inevitable that we are dealing with a religious system, a Church. But let us not rely on this alone let us look at the prophecy more closely. As we go through this chapter we read of this city as “she” and as a “woman.” These have always been terms used for the Church as throughout the Bible the Church is always female.
As we read about this woman we find she is called a “whore” and a “mother of whores.” She is a harlot, a prostitute, a sexually loose woman. She commits fornication out of which comes much abomination and filthiness. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” There are genuine believers within her who must come out and practise separation from her.
Spiritual harlotry is identified in various Old Testament cities and regions such as Tyre (Isa.23:17), Samaria (Eze.23:2-4) Nineveh (Nah.3:4) and of course Jerusalem and Israel (Jer.3:1-3; Eze.16:15-16). When identified in Gentile cities it speaks of spiritual fornication with princes and nations. When identified in Jerusalem it speaks of a departure from God in following false religion.
When Old Testament Jerusalem followed after new lovers from Babylon she was termed a harlot (Eze.23:11-23). When the New Testament Church follows after lovers from Babylon she is also termed a harlot. So this term harlotry when given to a city means a turning from the true God to Babylonian religion and a polluting of nations, peoples and kings by spiritual fornication or the spreading of her false religion.
When we see the woman of Revelation 17 we are looking at one who has departed from the true faith and true love for Jesus Christ. She has followed after her lovers from Babylon. She has become MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT. She now propagates her Babylonian religion across the earth.
Let’s look at her colours and customs. In verse 4, “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls.” At first she seems to be adorned like the Old Testament priesthood and Temple but take note, she does not have blue in her colours. Blue in the OT always represented the heavenly life (Ex.35:35; 39:2).
Again we see her decked in gold and precious stones (Ex.39:9-14). Again she is mimicking the fact that the Lord decks His bride with such (Eze.16:11, 13), yet this Harlot has decked herself (Prov.6:26; 7:16). Her wealth has come through her own harlotries.
Here we see one dressed in the colours of OT religion, the Law, but it is earthly religion not heavenly. She is attempting to copy the form of the OT ministry but without any heavenly or spiritual value. It is a counterfeit priesthood that we see here. “…having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:” This cup in her hand speaks of her ministry and influence upon nations. It is a Babylonian cup, the very same one Jeremiah prophesied of in chapter 51:7.
So we see that she takes her colours from the OT priesthood and her customs from Babylon. Her wealth comes from harlotry among the nations. Is it any wonder that the Lord reveals her as ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. She is a counterfeit ministry, a counterfeit Bride and counterfeit Church. Only one Church in the world fits that description and that is the Roman Catholic Church.
Just think, when the Church was birthed in the city of Rome it was a poor persecuted minority. It was encouraged and built up by the preaching of Paul the Apostle. That powerful doctrine of Justification by faith was one of her greatest delights in that first century. But John is shown a vision of her after almost two millenniums. She is now a harlot who has conquered that great city. How? She committed spiritual whoredoms with Imperial Rome in order to sit with power over nations.
Her Babylonian-ism resided in the ancient City of Rome before her promotion. Babylonian-ism was simply passed from Imperial Rome to Papal Rome via Constantine. We must see that God hates Babylonian-ism. When Israel under Joshua conquered their enemies at Jericho just one man disobeyed God by taking and hiding a Babylonish garment as well as shekels of silver and a wedge of gold. By this one act Israel was defeated as they advanced towards the city of Ai. God so hates the smack of Babylon-ism amongst His people that He brought everything to a standstill. (Jos.6:18; 7:1, 11, 13, 20-26). God has not changed.
Just think of that great and godly King Hezekiah. He was God’s man, a Revivalist, a man of the Word, a man of faith. But after all his years of great service, a work of reformation and even his miraculous healing he fell prey to entertaining visitors from Babylon. They did not come with sword or armies, but their reception was utterly destructive. Many may see no harm in Hezekiah entertaining the Babylonians, but God did (Isa.39:1-8). As a result his children were taken captive by the Babylonian’s.
When Babylon comes into the Church and mixes with her doctrines, practices, customs and ministry, God will respond in the very same way. She will be defeated by her enemies and be given over into a Babylonian captivity. The Church must be ruthless with every element of Babylonian-ism.
Take good note that she is called THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS. In other words she has made harlots of other churches. We have watched her over the past few centuries woo many other Churches raised up of God in Revivals. By her seductions she has caused the Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists to commit fornication with her, as well as a host of others.
To commit fornication with her means to join with her, worship with her, work with her, and to partake of her influence. Dwelling as one with her is to commit fornication with her. We could easily show how Henry Newman in the 20th century laboured to bring the Anglican Church into Rome or under Rome’s influence, and how David du Plessis in the 21st Century was used to do the same.
All are lining up to join her. Even the Pentecostals and Charismatic’s now recognise her as a Christian Church. She has Mothered Harlots. She sits as a Mother Church to them all. She is the oldest Harlot of them all. Even the other world religions respect her, worship with her and do her honour as the queen of all man-made religion.
She persecutes the true Church
“And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.” (17v6). In John’s day we of course know that the city of Rome was indeed guilty of the blood of saints and martyrs. For the first three centuries of Church history this city became intoxicated on the Blood of these faithful Martyrs.
This persecution of the Church left this city literally drunk and under the spell of her wicked deeds. She gained a blood thirst. After adorning herself as a church and taking for herself power over God’s vineyard she set about to destroy the true Church wherever she found it. For over a thousand years now this harlot Church has shed the innocent blood of true saints and martyrs of Jesus. This has been her chief aim, to exterminate the real Bride which has kept herself pure from Babylonian-ism.
Rome was founded around 750 B.C. and is called Roma in Latin. According to tradition the god Mars (the god of war) impregnated a Vestal Virgin who then gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus, the usurper king of the region ordered them to be left to die while floating on the Tiber River. When the basket in which Romulus and Remus were placed washed up on shore, they survived by being suckled by a she-wolf (some stories say by harlots). The Latin word lupa can either mean she-wolf or prostitute (lupanar means brothel).
Many years later they arrive at the seven hills which are no more than separate settlements. Romus killed his brother and became the first king and founder of Rome which is named after him. He then became a great and powerful military leader making the city renowned. He named his new regiment’s legions. His death is unrecorded apart from the fact that he disappeared into a thunder storm and was caught up to heaven.
Take good note that he was conceived from a god’s intercourse with a virgin and is also recorded as ascending into heaven. This sounds like a false Christ. It is of great interest that this great city that has shed so much martyr blood should have been founded by one who owes his own life to a she-wolf or harlot and who founds the city in the blood of his own brother. Rome has indeed been a ravenous wolf to the true church throughout the ages.
The history of Churches like the Waldensians, the Albigenses, Bohemian Brethren, Lollards, Reformers, Anglicans, Ana-Baptist’s, Covenanter’s, and a host of others testify to the fact that Papal Rome has drunk deeply of Martyr Blood. Multitudes of volumes record these facts. John Wesley was very right when he said Rome could rightly be called "the slaughter-house of the martyrs."
No system on earth, no city on earth has consistently been guilty of this but the city of Rome and the Church of Rome. It is worth noting that at the end of time when we see her riding on the back of world government, we shall see her spill the blood of the saints and martyrs with greater vengeance.
She Rides the Beast
“I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” (v3). Elsewhere we read of this same beast that she is riding, “…behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” And again “[I] saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” (12:3; 13:1).
When we first see her in the Book of Revelation amidst the end-day scenario she is riding the beast with ten horns. From verse 2 and verse 18 we clearly see that she “reigneth over the kings of the earth” which came about by them committing spiritual fornication with her. This means that she possesses or holds a royal dominion over the kings of the earth through them having received of her religious abominations.
Let’s look at the beast and the ten horns. Who or what are they? In Daniel Chapter 2, we read of the dream of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had which revealed world government and empire from his day right down to the time just before Jesus would return to earth. The head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon “thou art this head of gold.” The breast and arms of silver was Medo-Persia; the belly and thighs of bronze was Greece; and the legs of iron were Rome.
This of course carried things from the days of Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar to the first centuries of the early Church under Rome. But note Daniel takes good note that this iron kingdom of Rome continues to extend right down to the ten toes of the feet (Dan.2v32-35; 40-44). These ten toes are called “kings” and they are reigning upon the earth when Christ returns. Their kingdom, the feet, is the last and it has descended from the days of Imperial Rome, the thighs, in the form of the legs.
We are told that these feet are a mixture of iron and clay. The clay pictures that these ten kings and kingdoms will be broken, divided and weak, but yet at the same time have within themselves the strength of the iron. Although they are united and work as one they will not be able to unite any more than clay and iron can in substance. They will retain their individual weaknesses but together manifest united strength (Dan.2:33-34; 40-44).
In another of Daniel’s dreams, recorded in chapter 7, four beasts are described. Concerning the last one we read, “…and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.” (7:7). In the next verse we read “there came up among them another little horn.”
Again in Daniel 7:24 we read, “And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them;” It is very clear; the ten toes and horns of Daniel are ten kings. The beast we read of, upon which the woman rides, also has ten horns and we are told “the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings,”(v12). We are looking here at the very same end-day kingdom, or last kingdom.
In Daniel 7 we read of another very insignificant king (little horn) who comes up amongst them but then takes control over them. More clarity is given in Revelation, “These” ten kings or horns on the beast “have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.” (17:13).
This beast is in fact the Anti-Christ. He is the last world ruler. He is in power when Christ returns. This period speaks of the last several years of time. When we see the Scarlet Woman riding the beast we are looking at the Roman Catholic Church, which reigns over the kings of the earth, with the appearance of holding sway over the beast and his political, global government. When we catch the very first glimpse of the beast with ten horns the woman will be on its back in control.
The prophetic statement of the woman sitting on seven mountains has a double meaning. First is the fact of it being seven literal mountains. But second they represent seven kings. “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (v10-11)
Who are these seven kings? In John’s day five of them had already come and gone. One was presently reigning and would then be followed by the seventh. The eighth that he mentions is the last world government with its leader revealed in the Revelation after the destruction of Rome. I am simply going to quote Mathew Henry on this particular point.
“Seven kings - seven sorts of government. Rome was governed by kings, consuls, tribunes, decemviri, dictators, emperors who were pagan, and emperors who were Christian. Five of these were extinct when this prophecy was written; one was then in being, that is, the pagan emperor; and the other, that is, the Christian emperor, was yet to come.” (MH)
Her Judgement and Destruction
“And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” (v16-17).
From the first verse of this chapter the Angel makes clear to John that the revealing of the power, influence, persecution and harlotry of this system and city is for one reason; to show her judgement and destruction. "I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:" (v1). Our eyes must turn from her to Christ who has sovereign power, perfect glory, eternal victory and final dominion of the nations of the earth.
Take good note that it is God and God alone who puts within the hearts of the ten kings to destroy this woman and to give their power to the beast; "...and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." (v16-17).