Day 349 – The Whore of Babylon

Today’s reading: Revelation 17

Today we see the “Whore of Babylon”.  Oceans of ink have spilled on trying to define who she is and what or who she represents.  Of course, the primary point of contention is that some Protestants denominations accuse the Catholic Church of being the whore.  There are several things we can say as to this issue:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.

Revelation 17:1-3

The angel takes John out of heaven and into a wilderness.  In Jewish thought, the Temple, Jerusalem, and Israel, all where to varying degrees, God’s dwelling place on earth.  “The Wilderness” was the outside, the pagan world beyond the borders of Israel.  Thus, the whore, does not exist within the sacred space but is outside, and therefore likely pagan.

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

Revelation 17:4-6

Those who would argue that the Catholic Church is the whore often look to the passages here, which describe the robes and cup, as describing the vestments of Catholic priests and the chalice at Catholic masses.  However, the remainder of the verse calls that into question.  We know from history that “Babylon” was the code name for Imperial Rome.  Ancient Rome, being the greatest empire in history is, therefore “Babylon the great”.  We see that the harlot is, “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs”.  Whatever, your thoughts on the Catholic Church it is clear, as a historical fact, that the Church has great honor and reverence for anyone martyred in the name of Jesus.  The Church does not “get drunk” or martyrs but honors them with great reverence.  This further implies that the whore is not the Catholic Church.    Why then is the woman arrayed in what could be described as priestly attire?  Her attire does describe priests but in this case, Old Testament Jewish priests who had aligned themselves with Roman power.

The next verse, the angel explains the woman and clearly identifies all that is going on in this passage as having to do with Rome:

But the angel said to me, “Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.  The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition; and the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.  This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;  they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.

Revelation 17:7-10

First, the beast being someone who “was, and is not…” is a reference to the rumor/fear/belief that the Roman emperor Nero was going to rise from the dead.  One must consider how odd it would be for such a belief to spread so relatively soon after the death and resurrection of the Lord.  Or maybe not so odd if one considers that the devil’s plan is often to “ape” or copy in a mocking way, that works of God.    Second, the “dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life…” are clearly the unsaved, pagans, those that reject the Lord, or atheists.  Thus, those that are associated with the beast are non-Christians.  Again, this identifies the beast as secular and pagan.  Third, the “seven heads are seven mountains” are easily identified as the seven hills on which Rome was built.  Opponents of the Church are quick to point out that the Vatican sits on a hill in Rome!  Of course, Vatican hill is across the river Tiber and not one of the original seven hills of imperial Rome.  Finally, the “seven kings” describe the Roman emperors up until this point in time.

The final description of the whore is a follows:

And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Revelation 17:16-18

Here, in the last verse of the Chapter, we see that the whore is directly identified as, “the great city”.  We know from Revelation 11:8, that this city is “where their Lord was crucified”, or Jerusalem.  We see here now that the “10 horns” who are either Roman governors or generals, together with the beast, which is Rome, end up hating the harlot and, “devour her flesh and burn her up with fire”.  This is in fact what happened when Rome eventually ended up turning on Israel and destroying her.

Thus, we can see from all the evidence within the chapter that the whore is Jerusalem, representing all of Israel who rejects the Messiah in favor of an alliance with imperial Rome.  This alliance ends up turning on them and destroying them.  This is exactly how history unfolded.

The question remains that since Revelation is both a book about the immediate future after the time it was written but also a book of prophecy that repeats itself continuously until the end times is there any possibility that the whore could refer to the Catholic Church?  I think the only answer is … maybe.  The very clear message of the chapter is that when the spiritual tries to make alliances with the secular it is essentially, a “deal with the devil”.  One could make the case that this has happened with the church at various periods down through history and also argue that it has met with similar results.  On the other hand, we know that as Christians and as Catholics in particular, we are not called to stop all participation in secular political affairs but rather to participate in them when good conscience allows.  Think, Sir Thomas Moore.  However, whether the Church will ultimately be the whore in the final version of this play remains an open question.  I think the best reason to think that the Church will not ultimately fill the role of the whore in the final end times comes from Chapter 19, (skipping ahead..).

After this, I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying,

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication
,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried,
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”  And from the throne came a voice crying,

“Praise our God, all you his servants,
you who fear him, small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:1-8

Thus, we see here that the whore (or harlot) and the Church (or bride) are two different “people” at the end times.  One corrupted the earth with fornication and is judged and the other “made herself ready”.  We know from other scriptures (Ephesians 5) that the Church is the Bride of Christ and we know that the mystery of the Husband and Wife becoming one flesh applies to Christ and the Church.  Thus, as we have seen many times up until now, the Church and the Lord are in sense indivisible.  As God could not be the source or corruption the Catholic Church can therefore not be the whore which corrupts the earth.

Tomorrow: Revelation 18

 

 

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