Biblical prophecy is about as subjective as you can get in the world of Christian theology. I am reluctant to spend much time on it, except as an occasional diversion. And I should add that I am particularly disinclined to make much of prophecy in the book of Revelation. That is because, as I have mentioned in another article, Martin Luther was convinced that Revelation should not be included in the Canon (Bible) since it was too open to interpretation. I am not saying I agree with Luther, but what if he was correct?
Even so, I feel I must come clean about something that I have become convinced of. In fact, there was no convincing. From nearly the very first moment of reading these verses, I sensed my own interpretation. This tendency is similar to many dream interpreters. For they often “know” the meaning, just as if they were listening to a conversation in another language. For the interpreter, the content is not open to debate…it has an accurate meaning and it can be known.
But first, let me lay some context.
In chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation, we read about “The Great Prostitute.” She sits for a while on a “Beast.” Both are described, and yet seem to be symbolic. Therefore, the reader is left wondering, what or who are the two characters, in the real world?
Most Bible commentaries will tell you that these chapters refer to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. Some theologians claim that these also (or instead) imply the Roman Catholic Church, which happens to be headquartered in Rome. And yet John saw the Prostitute wearing a headband that read “Babylon.” Ok, so we have some ideas to get started with.
In addition, the Bible’s characteristics of the Great Prostitute are, or were:
- A city with dominion over the kings of the earth
- Seated on many waters (“waters” is explained as peoples of all nations and languages)
- With whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality
- Made the whole earth drunk with the wine of sexual immorality
- Deceived all nations with sorcery
- Made merchants of the world rich
- Rich to the point of opulence
- Labelled Babylon (which could be symbolic)
- Known as the Mother of Prostitutes
- Responsible for the killing of Christians
- Making war on the Lamb, but ultimately defeated
- Fell and turned into a haunt for demons, unclean spirits/birds/beasts
- Onto which plagues come in a single day, including death, mourning and famine
- Burned up with fire, per God’s judgement
- Thrown down with violence and found no more
- Then kings of the earth lament that her destruction came in a single hour
- And merchants ruined because of her destruction
- Over whose destruction Christians instructed to rejoice
Some of these numbered items seem to accurately refer to Rome. Well, except for items 11-18 (which, wince, is about 44%). See, Rome never “fell,” as in it was not burned the ground in a single massive invasion. In fact, some historians do not believe it fell at all in 476 AD. Rather, in that year there was a turnover of authority, but none of the dramatic calamities we read of. Some even claim that the Roman empire survived until the 15th century.
It certainly can be assumed that the writer of Revelation, as well as his contemporary Christian readers would have equated Rome as a wicked global force that deserved God’s judgement. A number of Roman leaders were horribly cruel to Christians. So, for author John, I suspect that Rome was the Great Prostitute in his vision. Maybe he imagined that it would collapse at some point, as Jerusalem did in 586 BC, in a moment of terror and destruction. But whatever John hoped for, or chose to believe, we know that the Spirit can always have the last word. That’s not to say that his vision did not describe Rome. But what if there are additional fulfillments to such predictions?
I know that it’s tempting, when reading a very old book, to want to write oneself (and one’s times) into the storyline. That’s why in every generation, there are people who claim with certainty that Jesus will return in their lifetime. Well, it never happens. So we don’t want to imagine ourselves as so important as to have to play a role in a centuries-old plot. Plus, we need to guard against ethno-centrism. For example, Jesus almost certainly did not look European, since he was a Jew. To that end, let’s not imagine that the Great Prostitute/city must say, only refer to our hometown, since we are most familiar with that place.
The other key part is that because Revelation is in the Bible, many assume that the Great Prostitute must have one, accurate meaning and interpretation. But what if not? Perhaps there are different meanings woven together? Maybe the predictions were partly fulfilled at one time in history, and partly elsewhen*.
Let’s start by asking what cities have ever held some form of dominion over far-reaching nations. Rome, certainly. And London. Other places that might be considered could be Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Moscow, Babylon, Byzantium (now Istanbul). Even so, only Rome and London really qualify for this kind of thing for me. Besides that, we can try to speak of symbolic dominion. Some might tell of the four cities of influence: Washington DC (power), New York (finance), Los Angeles (entertainment) and San Francisco (technology).
How about the bit in the verses about sexual immorality, prostitution, being drunk and sorcery? Well, if we consider Rome, I think there was a fair bit of that thing going on. And yet, many Bible scholars will symbolicize** that sexuality, into idol worship. Of course, some ancient idol worship did involve sexuality, but to the point of claiming that the whole earth is drunk with it? I am not sure of that. Maybe pure exaggeration, or maybe something else.
In the New International Translation (NIV), verse 18:3 has a peculiar word. It says:
For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries.
It was this verse, many years ago when I first read it, that really made me pause. I could not help but wonder if author John (in 95 AD) was trying to describe something that he could not really conceive of. Maddening wine of adulteries?: Could it be that he was describing a global internet pornography addiction? Maybe. Like wine, it is addictive. It continues to debase into more and more perversions. This addiction actually changes the composition of the brain, which could be a reference to “maddening.” And finally, it is all about sexual immorality and adultery. Certainly, much of the entire modern world could be said to be drunk with it, because of access to the internet. And, world leaders have just as much access as everyone else.
Interestingly, the worldwide headquarters for pornography was originally in Northridge, an area within Los Angeles, California. This location (and next door in Reseda) was also where the huge earthquake of 1994 took place. Many have forgotten that this was one of the costliest natural disasters that the US has ever faced. Was it the judgement of God? (We do know that an earthquake is a fast calamity, devastating an area quickly.)
So, could we imagine that another modern-day meaning of the “Great Prostitute” is Los Angeles? Could the Beast on which she sits be Silicon Valley (farther North near San Francisco), where the internet “lives?” I was intrigued to find out that the full name of Los Angeles is El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles…or the Town of the Queen of Angeles. I used to think it meant the City of Angels, but no. It’s the City of the Queen. Hmm. Queen…Great Prostitute…maybe a connection?
It could be that Revelation 17 and 18 were fulfilled in Rome and that’s that. But what if there is coming another fulfillment to the western shore of parts of California?
And getting back to the list of prophecies, one that seems to be unfulfilled right now is the part about persecuting Christians. As far as I know, Los Angeles has not martyred any saints. Nor has there been massive permanent destruction that had come to that city in an instant. But what if that’s coming?…
Curiously, Revelation 18:4 has another thing to say about this mysterious city:
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
For more reference, read the full chapters 17 and 18 here.
*Elsewhen – a new word. As in “elsewhere” but referring to time not location.
**Symbolicize – another new word. Verb form of making something symbolic. (as in, to symbolize)
© 2019, Alignment Life
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The one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls come and said to me [author John], “Come, I will show you the judgement of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers of the earth have become drunk.
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.