The events described in the second half of the book of Revelation are directly related to the past and future of two symbolic women who are diametrical opposites. The first (Revelation 12) represents those who have been God's covenant people—the "Church of God"—both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament called-out servants of Christ. The identity of this woman (national Israel or the New Testament Church) in Revelation is determined by the context and other scriptures. Jerusalem, the holy city, is portrayed as their spiritual home (Revelation 11:2).
In the future, Christ's faithful followers will become the eternally righteous community of the saved in the city of New Jerusalem. They are those who "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17; compare Revelation 14:12; Revelation 22:14).
In this age they are despised, rejected and persecuted by most. But this woman, the true Church of God, is cherished by Christ. For a long time she has prepared herself to become His bride (Ephesians 5:27-29; Revelation 19:7-9). She will sit with Him on His throne and share in reigning over those who have rejected and despised her (Revelation 3:21). She will assist Christ in teaching God's ways to all nations (Revelation 20:6; Micah 4:2).
The second woman, represented as a harlot, is another great city. "And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH… [She is] drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:5-6).
What does she symbolize? "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 17:18). She will be the pride of this world. But she will also have been the relentless persecutor of true Christians. God accuses her of being "drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:6).
Her influential relationships reach into the highest political and social circles—"the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury" (Revelation 18:3). "… Her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:5).
God calls this harlot city—with her corrupt entanglements in international affairs—Babylon the Great. Her cultural and religious roots go back to ancient Babylon, the city where mankind rebelled against God soon after the great Flood in the time of Noah (Genesis 11:4-9). It was in ancient Babylon that Satan reestablished his control over mankind for "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes ancient Babylonia as a "cultural region occupying southeastern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern southern Iraq from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf). Because the city of Babylon was the capital of this area for so many centuries, the term Babylonia has come to refer to the entire culture that developed in the area from the time it was first settled, about 4000 BC" (1999 Multimedia Edition, "Babylonia").
A modern city labeled Babylon the Great will, like ancient Babylon, set the cultural and religious standards for the end-time political-religious empire of the Beast of Revelation.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible explains the biblical implications of this Babylonian heritage: "As the realm of the devil … Babylon is … understood as the arche-typical head of all entrenched worldly resistance to God. Babylon is an agelong reality including idolatrous kingdoms as diverse as Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, Tyre, Nineveh, and Rome … Babylon, the mother of all harlots, is the great source and reservoir of enmity to God, as well as the objectified product of the 'one mind' [Revelation 17:13-17] which gives power and authority to false gods. As such, she is the antithesis of the virgin bride of Christ, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the kingdom of God" (p. 338; "Babylon (NT)").
The primary affairs of ancient Babylon were managed by priests who cleverly blended illicit sexual practices into their idolatrous religion. Traces of these traditions still exist in today's religions. At the time of the end many ancient idolatrous concepts will again be elevated to international acclaim through Satan's influence. Rome—spiritual heir of ancient Babylon's idolatrous traditions—will again emerge as the chief city over a greatly expanded revival of the ancient Roman Empire.
How influential will this great city become? "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, 'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication'" (Revelation 17:1-2). An angel explains to John that "the waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues" (Revelation 17:15).
Citizens of many lands will cheerfully embrace her satanic approach toward personal and spiritual relationships—her spiritual harlotry. They will welcome her influence and power over them. She will boast, "I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow" (Revelation 18:7). God, however, labels her the mother of harlots, a city full of abominations. He condemns her practices and will destroy her along with every corrupt tradition she has preserved.
In contrast, the first woman, "the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15), will become the bride of Christ at His return (Revelation 19:7-9). Revelation ends with the people of God, after receiving eternal life, dwelling with Christ and the Father forever. "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.'
"And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:9-11). Here is the woman who forever will radiate the light and truth of God.
She will expand into an immense city of faithful servants of God—the everlasting holy city of New Jerusalem. Notice God's final warning: "And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:19).