The Question: Is the Catholic Church the Great Whore of Revelation?
The Response: I do not believe the great whore of Revelation 17 to be the Catholic Church. Having made that point, it is now incumbent upon me to make my case; but first a disclaimer. As many surely would agree, the Revelation of Jesus Christ--AKA Revelation, Apocalypses, Revelation to John, and more—often makes for a difficult study. Written 19 centuries ago, it deals with contemporary events, events in the past and things to come. In studying this book, it is imperative that the exegete keep things in their proper timeframe. To compound the difficulties, John frequently used terms that, while they may have been clear to his contemporaries, often are difficult to interpret today. For these reasons, I encourage the reader to carefully examine this work, as once the Bereans also examined the Scriptures, “to see whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10)
One of these days, though not so soon as this believer wishes it would be, something incredibly wonderful will happen:
This is not the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; but the Rapture that true believers long for. Please notice, in verse 16, that the dead in Christ—those saints who, down through the centuries, possessed the Divine gift of saving faith when they died—will be the first to rise. When these have all gone to meet with Christ in the air, living believers—true believers—will then be caught up to be with them and the Lord forever. (verse 17).
Think about it. Every human being who had ever received God's mercy and the gift of saving faith will be taken up to be with the Lord. After the Rapture, there will not be found anywhere on earth a single true believer; a single Christian. I do not doubt that millions of those left behind will be thunderstruck that they were not also caught up to be with the Lord. They will have considered themselves to have been Christians, and many no doubt would have loudly professed their supposed Christian faith for all the world to know. Theirs would have been a false Christianity, a vain hope, as would have been proved by their having been left behind. In this group, I do not doubt, will be millions of so-called Protestants and even more millions of those who had trusted in the promises of the Romish religion for their salvation.
Having been provided with indisputable proof that their faith had not been able to save them, I believe that the great bulk of these will sever their former religious ties and seek a new affiliation that they believe will bring them salvation. (Revelation 2:22; 3:10) They will be ripe for harvesting by the great whore.
Why is the false religious system of the Tribulation referred to as a whore, or harlot? For one thing, that is what it is called in the Scriptures. For another thing, because it behaves like a whore, having fornicated with the world's leaders.
The harlot is a leader in religious affairs (verses 17:2, 5) and at one time claimed to be the Bride of Christ. Then she fell away from the true faith and became a false religion. How do we know this? In the Scriptures, fornication often refers to spiritual prostitution—idolatry or religious apostasy--as in Jeremiah 3:6-9; Ezekiel 16:30ff.; Hosea 4:15; 5:3; 8:10 and 9:1. We know from Acts and the Epistles that in her earliest days, the Church instituted by our risen Lord was under virtually continuous pressure to turn aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and return to many of the practices and doctrines of Pharisaic Judaism, but this is not, I believe, what is referred to here.
In John's time, it was customary for Roman hookers to wear a headband with their names emblazoned on it. (cf. Jeremiah 3:3) Thus, all the world could know who they were and what they were. The great whore is wearing such a headband (verse 5) and the names it bears describe the world's final religious system.
What is it that these three names describe? In the New Testament, a MYSTERY is a truth once hidden that is revealed in the New Testament. Spiritual Babylon is such a mystery that has yet to be revealed, so we cannot know at this time just how it will manifest itself in the time of the great Tribulation.
BABYLON THE GREAT does not refer to the city wherein the Jews were held captive, which still existed during John's lifetime. The details of John's vision cannot be applied to any historical city. The title refers to the whole of the worldwide political, economic and religious kingdom of Antichrist. The original city of Babylon was the birthplace of idolatry; the place where residents built a monument to rebelliousness and false religion—the Tower of Babel. Their idolatry was spread throughout the earth when Almighty God confounded their language and scattered them around the world.(cf. Gen 11:1-9)
MOTHER OF HARLOTS is a reference to ancient Babylon, the city to which all false religion can be traced.
The great whore is a leader in political affairs. (verse 2) She is depicted as controlling the beast upon which she rides. She will align herself with the world's political leaders and they all will be absorbed into the empire of Satan's false Christ. The reference to the “wine of her fornication” tells us that her influence will go beyond the leaders of the world to all of mankind (cf. verse 15; 13:8; 21:10) This image does not describe actual wine and actual sin, but depicts the world's population being caught up into the intoxication and sin of a false religious system.
From verse 4, we know that the harlot is very rich and influential. Her robes are of colors identified with royalty, nobility and great wealth. She is presented as a successful prostitute who has become extremely wealthy. Like other hookers, who often dress in fine clothes and wear precious jewelry in order to attract clients (cf. Proverbs 7:10), the great whore has put on her party clothes to lure nations into her grasp. The golden cup also points to her great wealth (cf. Jeremiah 51:7), but the purity of its gold is corrupted by the filthiness of her immorality. The image is clear. Just as a prostitute might first get a victim drunk, so does the harlot system deceive nations into committing spiritual fornication with her.
The false religious system has been the great persecutor of the saints (verse 6). Some eschatologists see the saints mentioned in verse 6 as being Old Testament saints; while the martyrs is a reference to New Testament saints. There are those who use this verse as a proof text that the great whore is the Catholic Church. They point to the hundreds of thousands murdered by the Catholic Church as she sought to gain religious sovereignty over all of mankind. In making this identification, they appear to overlook the many Catholics who were killed by the so-called Protestant church or the millions put to the sword by Islam. In any case, the distinction is meaningless, since both terms refer to the Tribulation martyrs. John's point is that the harlot is a murderer. While it is true that false religion has killed millions over the years, the final false religious system will prove to be far more deadly than any that preceded it.
This false religious system will be worldwide in scope. In verse 1, we are informed that the great whore sits on many waters. In verse 15 we are told what those waters represent; they “are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
At this point, it may be argued by some that what I have presented is a description of the Catholic Church. While it is true that there are many similarities between the historical Catholic Church and the as yet non-existent worldwide false religious system that is the great whore of Revelation, it must be remembered that the great whore of Revelation 17 does not as yet exist. And that today's Catholic Church is not the only religious system in the world and she does not control the world's leaders.
That the false religious system of Revelation 17 may well grow out of the ecumenical movement that the Roman Church is promoting is a possibility that cannot be denied. Should that be the case, it will no longer be the Catholic Church and, in my considered opinion, will not be ruled over by a Catholic pope.
The false religious system will be destroyed by the Beast, who will rise up from the Roman empire to rule over the nations. (Daniel 9:26) The seven heads and ten horns of Revelation 17:12 are federated under his authority. In the second 42 months of the Tribulation, he will present himself as a false messiah, and authenticate the claim by miracles.
So, once again, who is the woman described in Revelation 17? Ironside informs that …The woman is a religious system, who dominates the civil power, at least for a time. — Harry Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation, pp. 287-95; quoted by J. Dwight Pentecost in Things to Come, © 1958 Dunham Publishing Company, p. 365
So, what role has the Catholic Church played, or is playing, in the creation of the system referred to in Revelation 17 as the great whore? In simplest terms, she sustained and nurtured the Babylonian mystery religion when that city was destroyed. Ironside explains:
I shall close this study with the words of Dwight Pentecost:
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