A Portrait of the Women in Revelation 17

By Richard Bennett

The Holy Spirit, in Revelation Chapter 17, vividly depicts the features of the Apostate Church.  It is done in graphically precise detail.  The Apostle John beheld the ten-horned beast carrying a woman dressed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold, precious stones, and pearls; she was also a harlot, and the mother of harlots and abominations.  She is the paramour of kings, merciless, cruel, intoxicated with the blood of the saints and of the martyrs of Christ Jesus.  These symbols are brilliantly portrayed.  “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (v 9).  This the Holy Spirit clarifies by proclaiming, “the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (v 18).  The city indisputably is Rome.  The name upon the harlot’s brow is “mystery” (v 5).  She cannot be heathen Rome of which there was no mystery because her character was never concealed.  “Christian” Rome, however, is a mystery, for she is not what she appears.  Babylon, in the book of Revelation, is a city and a harlot.  Jerusalem, also in Revelation, is a city and a bride.  Babylon is the fraudulent lover of earthly kings; Jerusalem is the chaste bride of the King of kings.  The contrast is between the faithful Church and the Apostate Church.  Chapter 17 describes in detail the character of the Apostate Church.

Religious Power Seated on Civil Power

The woman is seen “sitting upon the scarlet-colored beast” (v. 3).  The woman, the Papal Church, is seated upon a scarlet-colored beast, the civil power.  She controls and directs for her own ends the civil power on which she rides.  The political, civil power is subordinate to the spiritual control of apostate Rome and is the Pope’s necessary instrument used to fulfill his aspirations and objectives.  This is exactly the history of the Papal Church.

    The Papal Church arose through the favor of the emperors of the old Imperial Roman Empire.  Constantine, who in AD 313 declared Christianity to be the state religion of Imperial Rome, set the stage for this.  Before that time, the church was the fellowship of believers under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ, working under their pastors by the authority of the written Word as received in the Gospel accounts of the life of the Lord, and the writings of the Apostles, together with the Old Testament.  The church by Constantine’s design, however, was to be organized and governed on the Imperial Roman Empire model.  Thus was governance of the church divided into four great provinces and a bishop in each province elevated above his brothers.  Historically, the power of the Bishop of Rome increased as the imperial power of the emperor declined.  Besides Justinian’s edict in AD 538, the edicts of the emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III proclaimed the Roman Bishop “as Rector of the whole Church.”  So, it is that by the edicts of civil powers, with the sanction of the Italian bishops, the Roman bishop became the head of the Western clergy.  By this time, however, the demise of the Imperial Roman Empire was at hand, and one might have thought that the state church would fall with the empire.  The Bishop of Rome, however, claimed an authority higher than that given by civil power, in order that his position would be perpetually secure.  Skillfully, he grasped to himself the ideal tool, the title of successor to the Apostle Peter, through which he claimed himself to have been invested with the authority of God.  In doing this, he rose to a position far above that of mere patriarchs and emperors.  Wylie summarizes,

“With the assertion of this dogma the system of the Papacy was completed essentially and doctrinally, but not as yet practically.  It had to wait the full development of the idea of vicarship, which was not till the days of Gregory VII [Hildebrand, 1073-85].  But here have we the embryotic seed—the vicarship to wit—out of which the vast structure of the Papacy has sprung.  This it is that plants at the centre of the system a pseudo-divine jurisdiction, and places the Pope above all bishops with their flocks, above all kings with their subjects.  This it is that gives the Pope two swords….The day when this dogma was proclaimed was the true birthday of the Popedom.  The Bishop of Rome had till now sat in the seat of Caesar; henceforward he was to sit in the seat of God.”

To do this, of course, required intrigue, deceit, suppression of the Bible and the Gospel—all of which was accomplished over the course of time so that by the time of the great Reformers of the sixteenth century, it was clearly understood that the Papal church was the woman who rides the beast.  Among us today is this same church, the Roman Catholic Church, still claiming the same authority and still pursuing the same agenda.

In Daniel Chapter 7, the little horn, symbolizing the papacy, persecuted the saints and spoke against God “the most High,” but would come to its end at the termination of 1260 years.  That occurred with the wounding of its head in the arrest of Pope Pius VI in 1798, 1260 years after Justinian’s edict of AD 538.  The Papal Church languished and lost its civil power for decades.  Revelation Chapter 13 explains, however, a second rise of this same political-ecclesiastical institution as a last day power, “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.”  This came to fruition, just as Scripture had foretold.  In 1929, Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty with Pope Pius XI officially conceding Vaticanus Mons (Vatican Hill) from the nation of Italy to the Pope.  The wound was healed!  At the hand of civil power, the Papal Church had once again sprung forth as a landed theocracy, still claiming for her pope the titles of Successor to the Apostle Peter and Vicar of Christ.

While she became the smallest independent state in the world (108 acres), she again has become one of the greatest in political intrigue, in the words of Lord Acton “the fiend skulking behind the Crucifix.”  Because she is established on civil power and as a sovereign state, she wields much sway in national and international law, particularly in the nations in which she has papal nuncios as ambassadors.  At present, she maintains civil relations with 172 countries at embassy level.  According to the Catholic Almanac, “An apostolic nuncio has the diplomatic rank of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary…a nuncio has precedence among diplomats in the country to which he is accredited and serves as dean of the diplomatic corps on state occasions.”  The history of Papal Rome, her seeming demise, and her present day position in the world, show that she fits what the Holy Spirit revealed Revelation 17.

Significance of Place, Attire, and Possessions

The place of residence of the Papal church was never in doubt, “the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (v. 9).  The system itself still delineates the area of residence of the Papal State, “…It is within the city of Rome, called the city of seven hills, that the entire area of Vatican State proper now is confined….”  The revelation of God shows forth the attire and possessions of the Apostate system, “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (v. 4).  Scarlet, the usual color of the robes of kings and military men, was and still is the favorite color of Papal Rome.  Cardinals for example, are clothed all in scarlet.  Papal patriarchs, metropolitan archbishops, archbishops, and bishops wear purple and “the Pectoral cross.”  “The Pectoral cross” is declared by Rome to be “decorated with gems; that of a bishop usually contains relics of a martyr.”  Papal Rome has the “the golden cup” in the chalice on her altar, which must be gold or gold-plated.  Biblically, gold represents perfection and the things of God.  Deceptively, Rome offers a “pure” outward display, but of her Eucharistic use of that golden cup she states, “…in the sacrifice of the Mass Our Lord is immolated.”  In Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice was once offered.  Thus, the golden cup she holds out as the center of her worship to God is filled with the most odious of abominations, an apt image to denote her idolatry and superstition.

Description of the Inner Character

Verse 5 delineates her inner character “upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”  She is called “great” because of the scale of the Papal influence, and because of the multitude of kings, princes, and presidents with whom she has done business.  The Papal Church is also invested with the title, “Mystery Babylon the Great.”  Throughout her history, she has been an enigma.  She continues to be so, even to those within her own system.  Truly, God’s Word describes her as a “Mystery.”   She is also called “Babylon” as she is the exact antitype of the ancient Babylon in her idolatry and cruelty.  Babylon of old was only a miniature pastel portrait of her.  “Babylon the great” titles herself as “Holy Mother Church.”  She has the audacity to proclaim, “‘No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.’”  In truth, the Bible has revealed her inner character as, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (v. 5).  The Pope and his Church bring into the worship of God the worship of the communion bread and Mary as “‘Mother of Mercy,’ the All Holy One,” with the Pope himself designated as “Most Holy.”  The traditions of “Holy Mother Church” also bring into the worship of God the frustrated lives of celibate men and women, and worst of all, it brings in the idolatry which God hates.  Icons and saints’ bones alike are venerated as relics.  Papal Rome encourages people to contact the dead.

Thus she teaches, “In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead…Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping ‘them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.’”  As the promoter of lewdness through the institutions of her unholy traditions, there never was a more expressive or appropriate title applied to her than that penned by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John.

Her History of Persecution of True Believers

The Roman Church has employed kings and princes in her work of persecution.  Her courts first tried and condemned the believers, after which they were delivered over to the civil authority to be executed.  In the Papacy’s crusades against Bible-believing cities, towns, and territories, Rome enlisted the civil power of kings and potentates to carry out her cruel deeds.  In those many years, the Papal system was “drunken with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs” (v. 6).  The Crusades against the Albigenses, the Vaudois, and the Waldenses were replete with outrageous slaughters and barbarities.  The individual hounding down of true believers that resulted in atrocious torture and death is the documented history of the state religion of the Papacy.  For centuries through her Office of the Inquisition, she organized wars against Bible-believing cities and territories.  In the middle of the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent IV devised in detail for the many inquisitors how torture was to be perpetrated.  “Innocent IV gave comprehensive instructions regarding how torture was to be applied in his bull At Extirpanda (1252).  This was revised and reissued by subsequent Popes.  Torture is prescribed, but it was to stop short of pulling off limbs or causing death…Ruinous punishments are enacted on all who harbor or give advice or favor to a heretic.  How completely the abominable system was the direct achievement of the Papacy is shown by the clause that no change could be made without the special authority of the Apostolic See.”

“From the birth of Popery in 600, to the present time, it is estimated by careful and credible historians, that more than fifty millions of the human family have been slaughtered for the crime of heresy by popish persecutors, an average of more than forty thousand religious murders for every year of the existence of Popery.”  Roman Catholic author, Peter de Rosa, wrote of the atrocities of the Roman Catholic torture machine,

“The record of the Inquisition would be embarrassing for any organization; for the Catholic Church, it is devastating.  Today, it prides itself, and with much justification, on being the defender of natural law and the rights of man.  The papacy in particular likes to see itself as the champion of morality.  What history shows is that, for more than six centuries without a break, the papacy was the sworn enemy of elementary justice.  Of eighty popes in a line from the thirteenth century on, not one of them disapproved of the theology and apparatus of Inquisition.  On the contrary, one after another added his own cruel touches to the workings of this deadly machine.”

The Papacy has shockingly fulfilled the image from Revelation of the woman blood-drenched from six centuries of her murderous rampage.  In the Bible, the Holy Spirit foretold of her lust for power and blood.  History has recorded some of the gruesome details.

Mixture of political and Spiritual Power

How could the fusion of the political and deceptive spiritual power of the Papacy be better represented than in Revelation 17?  In her unending challenge to the Lord Jesus Christ for His place and prerogatives to rule over the kings of the earth, her monarchy and priesthood persist in associating with rulers and governments as she continues to grasp insatiably at the power to rule supreme on earth.

As the Word of God is fulfilled, and until the Lord Christ Jesus comes, it is the commission of believers to warn one another with that same clarity that the Bible sounds forth.  It is the duty of true believers to s
how forth the fulfillment of what was predicted in Revelation 17.  Such was the conviction of the believers of old.  It is only by honest and faithful testimony to the revelation of the Holy Spirit that freedom from Roman Catholicism’s control will come to those presently ensnared by her lies.

Present Day State of Affairs

Papal Rome has stood in direct opposition to the Gospel of Christ.  For this, the judgment of God will come upon her.  There never was a clearer duty than that of withdrawing from Papal Rome and her ecumenical followers.  Her iniquity is corrupting and intoxicating the nations with a counterfeit head of the rue Church; she presents a sham gospel, and will make her utter ruin the just and righteous act of God!  The voice of the Lord thunders from the final chapters of the Bible and reverberates throughout the world, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”  The Woman sitting upon the scarlet-colored beast will continue and wax strong and draw to her bosom multitudes, nations, and power and glory of the world, as the Lord said she would.  However, the final condemnation of her and those within her is already written, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”35  God’s reserved wrath, His punishing justice, and His enmity to sin, will be revealed to the entire world.  The destruction of Papal Rome will proceed from the glory of His power.  “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation.”  Idolatry is a damning sin of human nature.  It will prove fatal to those who persisted in it, in the very presence of the Savior they have slighted and rejected.

Bible believers of old recognized the Apostate Church from the pages of Scripture and were prepared to both expose her and to face her in the strength and wisdom of the Lord.  Among many others,, there were John Wycliff, John Huss, and Savonarola.  During the Reformation, among many others, were Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, John Bradford, and John Foxe.  The 17th and 18th centuries produced believers such as John Bunyan, the translators of the King James Bible, and the men who published the Westminster and Baptist Confessions of Faith.  Sir Isaac Newton, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Wesley add to the list.  In more recent times, there were men such as Charles Spurgeon, Bishop J. C. Ryle, and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  All these men and many more knew the precision of Scriptures regarding both the true bride of Christ and the Apostate woman “drunken with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs.”  The Written Word has been fulfilled in history, in both light and darkness.  Like those believers of old, we must enter into battle.  He is with us, and we will have the final victory.  The words of the Apostle we repeat, “…having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore.”  The certainty of the final triumph should animate us in our efforts, and encourage us in our struggles.  The punishment Christ Jesus will inflict in “the wine of the wrath of God” is echoed in the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;  He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on….Glory! Glory! Halleluja! His truth is marching on….He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat; Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet; Our God is marching on. Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!  Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!  His truth is marching on.”

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