Like so much of the book of Revelation, Revelation chapter 17 highlights a powerful image with a strong message. In contrast to the bride we see later in Revelation 21, John shows us a harlot. And it’s meant to make us uncomfortable because John wants us to see something: the seductive and pervasive power of evil will be defeated.
Revelation 17 is chocked full of powerful events and shocking imagery, and I would encourage you to read it in its entirety. Here is just a selection of it (Rev. 17:1–6):
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw 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. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
When I saw her, I marveled greatly.
How do we apply the dramatic scene we see in these verses and throughout the chapter? Let me suggest three ways:
1. Remember the seductive and pervasive nature of evil.
I hope that the imagery of this passage will serve as a warning. Evil is seductive. It usually doesn’t look like a disaster. It looks attractive and appealing. Its pull is strong. It creates counterfeits to what is right, honorable, and pure. And you’ve got to understand this, because everything in our culture and world is moving toward the full acceptance and ingestion of what is contrary to God.
2. Understand that evil resides in both people and societies.
Sin is certainly individual. People do terrible things. But that’s not the only problem. Sin is a part of every culture, society, and man-made system. This reflects the spirit of Babylon. Grant Osborne writes in his commentary on the book of Revelation:
Every great center of power that has prostituted its wealth and influences restores to life the spirit of ancient Babylon. The repulsive immorality, idolatry, luxury, and misuse of power that characterized Rome has been reproduced many times throughout history; and we must all recognize the same depravity in our way of life today.
3. Take refuge in the Lord of lords and King of kings.
If you truly feel the implications of this passage, it should make you realize that there’s no hope in you or in anything human beings can create. The only hope for human beings is a divine rescue operation where both humans and society are freed from the pervasive and seductive power of sin.
Evil is so bad that our only hope is a deliverance bought by Jesus, anchored in God’s sovereignty, and guaranteed by God’s will. The hope for the future is in him who was, who is, and who is to come.
The seductive and pervasive power of evil will be defeated!
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14).
Christian, do you hear your hope? If you are with Christ, you are “called and chosen and faithful.”
The seductive and pervasive power of evil is defeated by the power of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 628.