This chapter like much of Revelation has intrigued many – what is it about, who is the Beast? who is the harlot? Is it past or future?
Having been taught and myself taught a dispensational, pretribulation, premillenial rature (wow that’s a mouthful!) this was all about to come, or already taking place before our very eyes (I remember the excitement, these were the last days, any moment now Jesus would come and we would be gone!) – a revived Roman Empire (the Common Market come European Union) and Roman Catholicism or the World Council of Churches, or some such church that was in league with the powers that be.
Time has a way of proving one right or wrong, and how frequently those who held such approaches have had to reasses and adapt, only to reassess and adapt again, and again – something which mars the witness of the church, and demoralises the saints. As I have studied Revelation it’s been interesting to read of a number of dispensational Bible teachers and preachers who’ve become disillusioned with this approach and begun to ask whether they were interpreting it correctly, and as a result of ufrther study, adopting a partial fulfillment approach.
And this is where I’m at, and when we do, chapters like this are no longer a matter of specultion, or puzzles to be solved, but a realisation of the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jesus regarding unfaithful Jerusalem (Matthew 23 and 24).
The Beast can be no other than Rome, the city of seven mountains or hills (17:7, 9), and the harlot who sits astride the beast (therefore diferrent from the beast) is Jerusalem, unfaithful Israel.
God had no trouble referrring to his people as a harlot in the Old Testament (see Jeremiah and Hosea). And logically it doesn’t make sense to use the phrase of a heathen nation. It has to do with a people who have been unfaithful and played the harlot – exactly what Israel had done both in Old Testament days and at the time Revelation ws written.
This alone make’s sense of John’s words, “When I saw her, I was greatly astonished” (17:6) – to have said that of Rome just wouldn’t. It was the unexpected one, the one who belonged to the Lord, who had defiled herself and become enamoured with and cosied up to Rome. The one who had conspired to crucify Jesus her Messiah, had persecuted his church, and become drunk as John puts it “on the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus.”
The angel said to John, “she will be hated,” and “made desolate and naked,” solemn, serious words. Her house had been left emplty (Matt. 23:38), and judgment had come. Read the history, watch the documentaries – it happened literally.
The prophetic word given to John, was never about speculative ideas regarding the end times, but prophetic diagnosis and remedy which could lead to one of two responses, repentance or rejection.
Unfaithful Israel rejected and were rejected and judged.
What God says he means.
Scripture repeatedly shows God’s patience and mercy, but it will not last forever. Thoughout Revelation is a gospel theme, and an opportunity for response, but there comes a day when the door will close.