We do not need to give our own interpretation of the symbols for that is given to us and is also confirmed by other Scriptures. The Bible is its own interpreter.
1. First of all we see in v18 that the woman is a city, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city.” This city he talks of can be identified by a few simple facts:
It was a city of which John himself knew.
It was a "great city"
It was the great city in John’s day “which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” The question is, what city in John's day had an empire which was ruling over the nations, as well as Judea and Jerusalem?—Rome of course.
This city is “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (17:1). This scarlet woman, who was not yet in place in John's day but was yet to come, would also rule over many different peoples, nations and tongues from Rome (17:15).
The beast she rode upon had seven heads. This is interpreted in verse 9, “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” This is the interpretation. These are seven literal mountains. Again the city of Rome in John’s day, and our day, was and is renowned for sitting upon seven mountains—History and recent archaeology reveal that originally there were seven separate protected settlements on these seven hills which eventually united to form Rome. A feast called the Septimontium (seven mountains) was held annually to commemorate the building of a city wall ncircling these seven hills.
It is interesting that that the goddess Roma appears in 71 AD on coins as a woman (Roma) sitting and reclining upon the Seven Hills of Rome during the reign of Caesar Vespasian (69–79 AD). At her feet was a she wolf with two twin boys suckling it and to the side of her the Tiber River. Upon reading chapter 17 any Jew or Christian would immediately think of the city of Rome.
When John wrote Revelation 17 this symbol was fresh in the minds of all and widely understood.
The fact that we are told three times where she sits in connection with three different things, i) the waters, ii) the beast iii) and the mountains, should be enough confirmation to identify this city beyond doubt.
2. Second of all, this city has a connection to ancient Babylon. 17:5, “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT…” Various early Christian leaders clearly understood the connection between Babylon and Rome.
Victorinus (end of 3rd century) in his commentary on this chapter said: “…the city of Babylon, that is, Rome; the City on seven hills, that is, Rome; and the Kings of the Earth will hate the Harlot, that is, Rome.”
Jerome (347-420 AD) said: “When I dwelt in Babylon and resided within the walls of the scarlet adulteress, and had the freedom of Rome, I undertook a work concerning the Holy Spirit, which I proposed to ascribe to the Bishop of that city.”
Augustine (354-430 AD) said: “Babylon is a former Rome and Rome a later Babylon.”
The religious mysteries of Babylon were passed to Rome—On the other side of the coin mentioned above was the head of Vespasian surrounded by his new titles including the title Pontifex Maximus (Greatest Pontiff) a title which came from Babylon via Pergamum and which was later assumed and used by the Pope’s of Rome—and still is. Most of the extra-biblical teaching which later became the doctrine of Roman Catholicism had roots in the Babylonian religion.
Mother worship and the title of Mother of God—this began with Nimrod and Semiramis at Babel and spread into all the world when God scattered the people by confusing their tongues. It was at Rome that it became established with the church and spread across nations.
Both invaded Palestine, defeated Jerusalem and desecrated the temple—It was under Vespasian's reign in 70 AD that his son Titus sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish nation.
3. Third of all we see that the city is depicted as a woman: Six times she is called a “woman” and five times she is referred to as “her.” A woman is always a symbol. Rev.21:2, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”--the true church is both a city and a Bride. This harlot city is a false, counterfeit Bride. A Harlot Church. We see several things about her here:
Her Mystery—a thing hidden but revealed to those who are taught—spiritual, not natural or just physical—abomination. There is a revelation concerning her which only the Holy Spirit by way of the written Scriptures can reveal concerning her. She is a mystical and religious system.
Her Morality—in v1 “great whore”, v15-16 “whore”, When Old Testament Jerusalem followed after new lovers from Babylon she was termed a harlot (Eze.23:11-23). When the New Testament Church follows after lovers from Babylon she is also termed a harlot. So this term harlotry when given to a city means a turning from the true God to Babylonian religion. This church at Rome is a church which is unfaithful to Christ which has many other lovers.
Her Ministry—v4, i) “arrayed (clothed) in purple and scarlet colour”— ii) “decked with gold and precious stones and pearls”, (Prov.17:16; Hos.2:13; Eze.16:11, 13,) — iii) “having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication”, this is her doctrine and communion; this is even revealed on her coins, Jer.51:7— iv) v2, we read of her spiritual fornication with kings and nations.
Her Motherhood—v5 “mother of harlots”—she mothers other harlots. Rome has made harlots of all the great Prodestant churches since the Reformation. The founders of almost every Evangelical church believed that Revelation 17 depicted the Catholic church at Rome. Why has this become a very rare interpretation over the past 30 years in all these churches? Because she has mothered them into harlotry.
Her Murderous Nature–Romulus and Remus founders of the city of Rome, were suckled by a she-wolf (some stories say by harlots). The Latin word lupa can either mean she-wolf or prostitute (lupanar means brothel)—v6 “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus”
John Wesley was very right when he said Rome could rightly be called “the slaughter-house of the martyrs.”
Smith Wigglesworth was right to warn, “You take care that it does not rise again, the Roman power is always bloodshed and murder, and always against the Holy Ghost...”
That great city of John’s day will be in existence at the end of time and holding the very same influence, power and importance as Rome did under the Caesars. We know that Imperial Rome with her Caesars ceased to exist, but in its place arose Papal Rome. Both Imperial Rome and Papal Rome have been guilty of some 100 million martyred dead.
So we have seen that this Scarlet Woman is a city and that city is Rome. We have seen that she is a harlot church. Lastly we see that her rule and dominion in universal (which is the meaning of the word catholic). Ancient Rome spread her influence across the Middle East, almost all of Europe, and across North Africa. Today the city of Rome stands at the centre of an international empire that spans the globe. These three points reveal that the Scarlet Woman is the Roman Catholic Church.
4. Fourth, the woman is riding a scarlet beast:
This Scarlet Beast that she rides is the Roman Empire. This is why John was utterly amazed and confounded when he saw this little scarlet lady riding with dominion upon the back of such a mighty empire (17:6-7). John knew exactly what the Scarlet Beast was from the prophetic Scriptures and from his own first hand experience. But he was in awe that there would yet come a Scarlet Woman who would gain mastery over this mighty iron empire.
In the next post we will prove that this Scarlet Beast was the Roman Empire. If this is so then it leaves us in no doubt that this Woman who resides in Rome will be seen in the last days holding a prominent place with world rulers in international affairs and in the process of the rise of a last world government. .