What is found in these verses is the final form of religious apostasy, ending in a one-world super-church. It is the final form of the woman Jezebel cast into the Great Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 2:20-22+) and united with the Laodicean Church. This is the counterfeit bride of messiah, presented as a prostitute, in contrast with the true Bride of Messiah, presented as a pure virgin (2Cor. 2Cor. 11:2; Eph. Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. Rev. 19:6-8+).1
During the Tribulation, all the worlds diverse false religions will be reunited into one great world religion. That ultimate expression of false religion will be an essential element of Antichrists final world empire, in holding together his military, economic, and political structure. Only religion can unite the world in the most compelling way.2The current trend of ecumenical liberalism, which places unity and relationship above doctrinal distinctions, is seen as evolving into a one-world super church. This global system of unified worship is suggested as the source from which the False Prophet arises (Rev. Rev. 13:11+).
The modern ecumenical movement, active first among apostate Protestant churches in the first half of the twentieth century, then essentially combining (or at least fellowshiping) with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the second half of the twentieth century, will eventually amalgamate with all other world religions, especially after the departure of all true churches to be with Christ. The second beast, or false prophet, will most likely emerge as the patriarch (or pope, or ayatollah, or guru or, more likely, simply prophet) of this universal religion.3At a critical juncture, probably the revival of the Beast from the dead, the one-world worship-what-you-will system of religion is thought to be put down in order to direct all worship to the Beast (Rev. Rev. 13:15+). The Beast, elevating himself over all that is called god (2Th. 2Th. 2:4) and empowered by the worship-hungry dragon, will not allow competition so the worldwide ecumenical movement which rode him as the Harlot will then be viciously turned upon and destroyed (Rev. Rev. 17:16-18+).
Having used the false religious system to help him gain control of the world, Antichrist will discard it. In his rampant megalomania, he will want the world to worship only him. He will also no doubt covet the vast wealth of the false religious system. Thus, he will turn on the harlot.4Thus, the religious state of the end-time is thought to be characterized by two phases. During the first phase, ecumenical globalism is pervasive. During the second phase, only the Antichrist is worshiped.
Just as there will be two political systems during the Tribulation, one during the first half (the ten kings) and one during the second half (the Antichrist), there will also be two religious systems, one for each half of the Tribulation. This passage describes the religious system of the first half of the Tribulation.5As plausible sounding as such a scenario might be, the Scriptures themselves provide precious little detail to support such ideas. If Scripture speaks for itself, the Harlot is seen to be one-and-the-same as the city Babylon. Just as Tyre and Jerusalem are described as harlots, so too is Babylon. If the Harlot is a city (Rev. Rev. 17:18+) and the city is a harlot (Rev. Rev. 19:2+) and their characteristics overlap as weve shown above, then there is little room for making the Harlot a separate ecclesiastical system.
It is indeed surprising how any mistake could have been made in the identification of this woman. For the Holy Spirit first shows us her very name upon her forehead. Then in [Rev. Rev. 17:18+], He tells us as plainly as words can tell anything that the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth; and [Rev. Rev. 16:19+], as well as [Rev. Rev. 17:5+] identifies this city with Babylon. God says it is a city. He does not say a system or a religion, but a CITY.6
The woman is identified as the great city (Rev. Rev. 17:18+) whose fall is described in chapter Rev. 18:1+. From internal evidence, the identity of Babylon the woman (ch. Rev. 17:1+) with Babylon the great city (ch. Rev. 18:1+) is so unmistakable that it would be inappropriate to make them different entities.7We believe a better solution is to recognize the essential unity concerning all that is related about Babylon. The Harlot and the city are one. But the city has two aspects: both a religious aspect and a commercial aspect. Both of these date back to the time of Nimrod and the tower of Babel (Gen. Gen. 11:4). These streams of influence have spanned both history and geography: she sits on many waters which are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues (Rev. Rev. 17:1+, Rev. 17:15+). Therefore, what Scripture relates concerning her harlotry we should expect, and indeed do see, in any number of the centers of civilization of our age. In that sense, there is some truth and overlap between the views that Babylon is the World? and Babylon is Babylon! It is certainly possible that an ecumenical one-world religion will unite the people of the world prior to the rise of Antichrist. Such a movement would be a valuable tool for the forces of globalism which will prevail prior to the ten-horn kingdom out of which the little horn eventually arises. Although Scripture does not preclude such a development, neither does it predict it. For it is equally possible that a single repressive faith, such as Islam, could gain ascendancy and bring a forced unity by the swordScripture simply does not say.8 What is most important to recognize is the dual aspect of Babylon of the end, that it will unite both commercial and religious aspects into a powerful force which has always proven too great a temptation in the hands of fallen men:
Various astute rulers in the long history of human government, rightly estimating the tremendous power of religion over the minds of men, have been greatly intrigued with the idea of some kind of union between church and state, in which the government would establish and support some widely accepted religion and this religion in turn would lend its influence to the state. All such alliances thus humanly originated have been based on selfish motives and opportunist policies on both sides, and hence must always break down in the end. Since each side pays a price for the unnatural union, and the price is ever increasing, the break becomes inevitable (cf. Rev. Rev. 17:1-18+). A union between church and state is safe only when inaugurated and controlled by the one true God in a kingdom of His own (Zec. Zec. 14:9, Zec. 14:16-21).9This is why Scripture relates that only when Messiah comes will the function of both priest and king be safely united in a single person as predicted by Zechariah:
Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; and speak unto him, saying, thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both [the two crowns or roles]. (Zec. Zec. 6:11-13, KJV) [emphasis added]
The American policy of complete separation of church and state, which most sensible men fully approve under present conditions, is not however the ideal policy. It is rather a policy of precaution in a sinful world, where political and ecclesiastical power too often get into the wrong hands, and the result is intolerable oppression. But under the personal rule of the Messianic King the union of church and state will not only be safe; it will also be the highest possible good.10
2 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 17:1.
4 John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), Rev. 17:16.
8 Because of the Roman origin of the prince to come (Dan. Dan. 9:26), we think the Islamic scenario to be less likely. We offer it only to underscore the possibility of other scenarios quite different than those frequently proposed.
10 Ibid., 245.