Revelation 17-18: The Destruction of Babylon, the Harlot

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 174–175


Revelation 14 tells how John heard an angel declare that Babylon would be destroyed (see v. 8). Revelation 16:19 begins the account of that destruction, and Revelation 17–18 continues the account in greater detail. As in other parts of Revelation, the destruction of Babylon is described using symbolic language.Babylon was the capital city of ancient Babylonia, but in the scriptures the name often referred to the whole nation. In the Old Testament we read that the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah, taking many Israelites captive to Babylon. The city of Babylon was very large and the people of the city were very wealthy, displaying their riches with fancy buildings, clothing, and leisure activities. They also worshiped idols. Because of the worldliness of Babylon, and because it was a place where the children of Israel were captive, the Lord often used the name Babylon in the scriptures to represent sin, worldliness, the influence of the devil on the earth, and the spiritual captivity that comes from these things (see D&C 1:16; 133:5, 7, 14). Babylon is the opposite of Zion, as are its values (see Moses 7:18).

Understanding the Scriptures

Revelation 17

Whore (vv. 1, 15–16)A person who accepts money to commit immoral acts; in this case it is symbolic of Babylon or the world 
Fornication (vv. 2, 4)Immoral acts; also the worship of idols 
Blasphemy (v. 3)Sayings and actions that insult or show disrespect for God and all He represents 
Arrayed (v. 4)Clothed 
Abominations (vv. 4–5)A foul or detestable thing, obscene and offensive 
Harlots (v. 5)A person who accepts money to commit immoral acts 
Perdition (vv. 8, 11)Destruction or ruin (see D&C 76:31–38) 
Desolate (v. 16)Destroyed 

Revelation 17:8—The Beast That “Was, and Is Not, and Yet Is”

This confusing phrase seems to refer to the devil, or someone who entirely turned himself over to the service of the devil, and sounds like the opposite of what John learned about Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:4, 8. Although the devil may live forever, he is inconsistent, unstable, and completely untrustworthy (see Alma 30:60). Jesus Christ, however, is God “yesterday, today, and forever” (Mormon 9:9) and is not only powerful, but is consistent and can always be trusted. Consequently, we can center our faith in Him.

Revelation 18

Habitation (v. 2)House, place where people live 
Abundance of her delicacies (v. 3)Great number of her (Babylon’s) luxuries, or worldly things 
Plagues (vv. 4, 8)Troubles, miseries, bad things that happen 
Deliciously (v. 7)Wickedly, seeking worldly pleasures 
Bewail her, and lament for her (v. 9)Be very sad for her, mourn 
Nought (v. 17)Nothing 
Cast dust on their heads (v. 19)A sign of sadness and mourning in Bible times 
Avenged (v. 20)To take revenge, gave what they deserved for their wickedness against others 
Sorceries (v. 23)Magic 

Studying the Scriptures

Do the following activity as you study Revelation 17–18.

Activity A iconFinding the Meaning of the Scriptures

Sometimes, the interpretation of a symbol or confusing passage of scripture can be understood by searching for clues in verses before or after it.

  1. 1.

    Compare Revelation 17:1–2, 6, 18 with Revelation 18:2–3, 24 and write a statement in your notebook about who the “whore” or woman in Revelation 17 symbolizes.

  2. 2.

    What does Revelation 17:15 help you understand about Revelation 17:1?

  3. 3.

    Revelation 17:3 speaks of a beast with seven heads and ten horns. According to Revelation 17:12, what are the horns?

On other occasions, you may need to turn to other books of scripture for help in understanding or for additional information. After you learn an interpretation (as you should in steps 1–5), you may want to mark your scriptures in a way that leads you to that interpretation the next time you study these chapters. For example, you may want to highlight the helpful reference in your footnotes or write the cross-reference in the margin next to the verse.

  1. 4.

    To help you understand Revelation 17, read 1 Nephi 14:9–17. Write what you learn about the meaning of the beast and what the woman did before the time period spoken of in Revelation 17.

  2. 5.

    How does Doctrine and Covenants 133:14 help you understand what it means to follow the Lord’s command in Revelation 18:4?

There are times when it is difficult to find additional help in the scriptures. The meaning has to come through the Spirit as you take time to ponder. A helpful way to ponder over symbolic language is to take time to picture in your mind the symbols, and then write down a description of them. Ask yourself questions like: What are the most significant features of the symbol? What feeling or message do those features create? What is the spiritual message? These simple ideas often encourage pondering that invites a spirit of insight and understanding. Try using them in completing steps 6–7.

  1. 6.

    What does the description of the woman in Revelation 17:4 teach you about what Babylon represents?

  2. 7.

    Considering what you have learned, why is a harlot an appropriate symbol for Babylon? (You may want to consider information given in the introduction and the “Understanding the Scriptures” section.)