A nefariously ethereal scene. A beautiful woman sitting on an grotesque scarlet beast, as it lingers over many waters. The eldritch beast peers out in seven directions, for the simple reason that this eerie minion has seven heads. On the brute, ten horns protrude from his skin, demanding fear at the look of them. The woman wears deep purple with gold and pearls snaked around her form. She pours out promiscuity that flows long into the cups of kings.
Something stands out about this sycophant. On her forehead is written a mysterious name: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev 17:5). When John saw this woman in the spirit (17:3), his categories of understanding blew right through.
METAPHORS POINT TO PROPOSITIONS
As is the way of things, metaphors point to propositions. Without substance behind the picture, the picture is nothing. Not every part of a metaphor means something, however. Wisdom is needed to discern which part points to something and which part simply fills out the picture. In this case, however, an angel reveals to John what this desert mirage points to (17:6–8). “This calls for a mind with wisdom” (17:9).
MEANING OF THE VISION
The seven heads of the scarlet beast are seven mountains on which the woman sits. They are also five kings, one has fallen, one is and the other has not yet come. The beast who was and is not, yet will rise again to destruction (17:8) is an eighth king but belongs to seventh (17:11). The ten horns points to ten kings currently without power but to receive it for a short time (17:12). They will together give their power to the beast, in order to make war against the Lamb (17:13–14). But the lamb will conquer them all.
The waters where the woman was seated are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages (17:15). Surprisingly, the ten horns with the beast will destroy the woman because God has put it in their heart to do so (17:16–17). The woman is “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” (17:18).
That metaphors point to reality is significant on many fronts. First, a metaphor in the Bible does not simply serve to evoke emotion, though it does that. It serves to evoke emotion in its image, as it represents something in reality.
Second, not every part of a metaphor means something. Hence, the jewelry and opulence surrounding the woman served to point to her promiscuous ways. Hence, some parts of the vision serve to point to the focal point of the vision.
Third, the reality behind this metaphor is this: Babylon rules the kings of the earth through its influence. The kings of the earth will ally with the beast in order to both destroy Babylon (to take power for themselves?) and to war against Jesus (the lamb). Thus, while the people’s of the earth fight and unconsciously carry out God’s will by destroying Babylon (Rev 17:17), God sits in heaven and laughs at their schemes (Ps 2:4). They are a kingdom divided, while God sits in control.
The point? The nations of the world vie for power, yet they are servants of God who are instruments who punish evil on his behalf (Bablyon). At the same time, when God wars he will never lose because his general (lamb) is lord of lords and king of kings (Rev 17:14).