Revelation 17 begins with “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls” which means that the next two chapters provide more information on the bowl judgments (cf. Rev 16:19). It’s important to blend all the images in chapters 15-18 together.
The angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters” (Rev 17:1). Who is she? Or better, what does the great prostitute represent?
When political leaders form an alliance with private corporations to dominate the world market, the angel calls it: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes” (Rev 17:5). Apparently, government leaders can be so “in bed” with megacorporations that the term “sexual immorality” describes their connection (17:2; 18:3). Devious politicians and CEOs “live in luxury” because of “her” (18:3, 9). As the rich get richer, the rest of the world becomes strangely intoxicated by this arrangement.
The angel carries John “away in the spirit into a wilderness” where he sees “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality … [She was] drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:3-6). What a beauty.
Babylon the Great’s economy appears to run the world. Around the clock, cargo ships distribute “gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple, cloth silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots” (18:12-13)—gee, anything else? Oh, yeah, her system includes human trafficking and drugs (18:13; in 18:23 pharmakeia is translated “sorcery”). She is “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit” (18:2).
The serpentine dragon enlists three helpers to harass God’s people: the political antichrist (sea beast), the false prophet of propaganda (land beast), and the mother of all corrupt economic systems (the prostitute). “They will make war on the Lamb”—but of course “the Lamb will conquer them” because he’s the true Lord and King (17:14).
Nevertheless, she “rides” the global bigwigs because they “are of one mind, and” because “they hand over their power and authority to the beast” (17:7-13). She’s awfully smug about all this. “I sit as a queen,” she says, “mourning I shall never see” (18:7). Such an economic juggernaut wields too much power to crash and burn, right?
Well, here comes a surprise twist. The political fat cats will “will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire” (17:16). Why do they turn against her? After all, she had made them filthy rich! Seems like they are shooting themselves in the foot! The angel tells us why. God put the idea “into their hearts to carry out his purpose by … handing over their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled” (17:17). King Jesus is in control!
The purpose of the seven bowls is to pour out judgment on the prostitute’s crooked economic system (Rev 16:19). The imagery of blood-filled seas reflects the devastating effects of greed and exploitation on countless lives. She will unravel and collapse (18:2). All who profited by her will “weep and mourn” because her downfall signals the end is near (18:9-19). King Jesus will right all wrongs.
Heaven is in celebration mode. “Rejoice over her, O heaven … for God has given judgment for you against her” (18:20).