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So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Revelation 17:3


We learned in the 12th Chapter of Revelation that this woman sitting on the scarlet beast is the spirit of apostasy. We do know from history that the early church began to battle apostasy in the early centuries of the Christian era. The church as built by Jesus was successful at first in defeating apostasy; never-the-less, the spirit of apostasy carried away many people that were associated with the church. Prophetically in Revelation chapter 12, we saw that the early church, under the symbol of the woman clothed with the sun, was given two wings of a great eagle that helped to sustain her in the wilderness of apostasy that followed.

Now in chapter 17 we find the harlot, which is an apostate church and not the church built by Jesus, riding a scarlet colored beast. We know that the beast according to the meaning of the Greek word is a dangerous animal; but as dangerous as it might be, we see this beast is actually driven and controlled by the harlot, the spirit of apostasy. It is through this beast that the harlot produces works in the name of religion that compound the ongoing errors of apostasy.

Verse 6, “And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” John was present at the birth of the church Jesus built. In the visions of the Revelation so far, John has seen the history through which Christ’s church has battled: he has seen good and he has seen bad. But it appears that the vision of the harlot sitting on the scarlet beast takes away his breath in great amazement. He had seen bad things up to this point in the vision but this is the worst of all.

Verse 7, “But the angel said to me, Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.” Remember, this angel was one of the angels with the bowls of God’s wrath, which we now know is the everlasting gospel.

Apostasy is the devil’s means by which he tries to undermine and overthrow the gospel. Sometimes apostasy is found in denial of biblical truth; sometimes apostasy is found in changing or explaining away the teachings of the gospel; sometimes apostasy is found in substituting rites and rituals for the grace and working of God in the lives of people; sometimes apostasy is found in people professing gospel salvation but yet continuing to live in sin and in ways that are contrary to the holiness of God. In whatever form it takes, apostasy robs people of eternal life with God but through deceit it makes them believe and feel that they are right with God. This is a horror that caused John to be so amazed, and it still amazes people today that have been brought into a true and right relationship with God through the atonement in Christ.

The angel begins his explanation of this woman. We know the woman is the spirit of apostasy, but we now have come to the time in history where she begins her most devastating work. The angel tells us first of all the beast has seven heads and ten horns. To help our understanding, we have to remember that this part of the vision follows the vision of the bowls of God’s wrath. What we are seeing here is more understanding of things we have already encountered in the Revelation and how they will impact the church as built by Jesus in an end-time revival.

Where have we encountered seven heads and ten horns? We saw them on the fiery red dragon in chapter 12; this is a resurgence of the dragon that attacked and tried to destroy the early morning church. We learned that the fiery red dragon represents Christ-less religion that persecuted the church in its early centuries. The seven heads of the dragon represent the persecuting nature of the spirit of unbelief throughout the seven eras of the history of the church. The ten horns depicted the 10 seasons of persecution the church suffered until Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian church in 324 A.D. From the description given us by the angel we see that this beast under the influence of the spirit of apostasy has within its very nature the same spirit of persecution against the true church that all the powers of unbelief previously levied against the early church. This time, the spirit of apostasy rides a false church of its own creation for the very purpose of persecuting and destroying the true church of Jesus for the remainder of history.

Verse 8 reminds us of something else we have learned so far in the Revelation. “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

The angel makes a curious statement about the scarlet beast. The beast was  . . . past tense meaning it existed before the time the spirit of apostasy took its seat on the beast. This past time was the time of pagan persecution by the fiery red dragon of chapter 13. The beast is not . . . present tense. Persecution has ceased because the spirit of apostasy has created its own version of the Christian church which tolerates and is at peace with the persecution powers. The beast will ascend out of the bottomless pit . . . future tense. The bottomless pit appears in Revelation chapter 9 under the sounding of the 5th trumpet.  This pit is opened by an angel fallen from heaven—another apostate ministry that evolved in the history of the church. We learned that this was a vision of the Protestant Reformation. It is during the Reformation that the persecuting power of the scarlet beast is reactivated and turned against the reformers that brought back the truth of the everlasting gospel.

It is from this point in history that the persecuting power and influence of the scarlet beast begins to lessen. The word perdition comes from the Greek word meaning ruin or loss. The persecuting nature of the beast does not go away, it remains part of its nature but it is somewhat lessened by the religious influences that come after it.

People that dwell on the earth, meaning people with Christian professions that do not accept the everlasting gospel, marvel at the scarlet beast. Why? Because they have no real experience with God through Jesus; because of this they will admire and accept this beast and its religious influence as if it really is God’s church. Remember that God’s wrath has been poured out on church membership that takes the place of salvation in people’s lives. These souls have their names recorded on the membership rolls of churches but not in the Book of Life. They marvel, or actually, admire this beast even though it opposes the everlasting gospel through apostasy. Truth has lost its meaning to them and they eagerly swallow error as if it were truth. Notice how the angel changes his expression as to the existence of the beast at the end of verse 8, “when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” In other words, the spirit of apostasy and its opposition to the everlasting gospel is present with the beast even when it does not appear to be. People are so overwhelmed by apostasy they cannot tell the difference between truth and error.

In verses 9–10 the angel identifies the scarlet beast that is driven by the great harlot. “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.”

The first clue is that the harlot, this spirit of apostasy, sits on seven mountains. The scarlet beast has seven heads that are here described as seven mountains. A mountain is a symbol for a church, such as Mount Zion representing the church built by Jesus in the 12th chapter of Hebrews. Apostasy is the foundation of all false churches throughout the seven eras of church history. So in this we see a universal existence of apostasy in some form of Christianity throughout the entire history of the church. But, the angel wants to specifically identify the scarlet beast ridden by the harlot. So, where and when in history did the spirit of apostasy take the reins of this scarlet beast?

The seven mountains is the marker for the city of Rome, which was the capitol of the Roman Empire in the early history of the church. The seven hills of Rome are:


Esquiline Hill. This was the location of Emperor Nero’s palace. Today it is the site of the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome.


Palatine Hill. This is the most famous hill in Rome and is the location where the city of Rome was thought to have been founded.


Aventine Hill. This hill was the site where Remus set up his empire; he was eventually killed by his brother Romulus who continued to use this hill as the capitol of his empire.


Capitoline Hill. This hill was used as a fortress by the earliest Romans.


Quirinal Hill. This is the highest of the seven hills and the site of one of the largest palaces in the world which has been the home of 30 Popes, 4 kings of Italy, and 12 presidents of the Roman Republic.


Viminal Hill. This is the smallest of the seven hills of Rome and is sandwiched in between the Esquiline and Quirinal Hills. It was once the site of the largest baths of ancient Rome.


Caelian Hill. This was the residential district of Rome’s wealthy families during the time of the Roman Republic.


These seven hills, mountains, form a circle around a valley and provide a protected opening to the Tiber River on the west side. The city of Rome came into existence when the primitive tribes that lived around these hills began to interact with each other. In time they drained the marshy valleys between the hills turning them into markets where they could conduct trade.

We know from the Book of Acts and the Epistle to the Romans that a Christian Church existed in the city of Rome in the very early days of the gospel. The historical record shows that as the church spread across northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, the leaders of the church at Rome gradually usurped influence among the ministry of the church at large to such a degree that the church at Rome claimed itself to be the earthly seat of the entire Christian church. Emperor Constantine legalized the church in 324 A.D. and claimed to be the titular head of the church. The bishop of Rome gradually became the leading power among the churches across the then known world and by the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great effectively became the formal head of the church at large during his reign from 590–604 A.D.

The angel gives us the final clue to this beast in verses 10–11 with the seven kings. Five kings were fallen, one is, and one is yet to come.

The harlot and beast reside on the seven hills, which we know represent the city of Rome. Rome had seven forms of government up to the time of the harlot and her beast. First were kings, then, Consuls, then Tribunes, then The Decemvisi, then The dictators, and then The pagan emperors.

Five forms of government had fallen before the time of the scarlet beast.

One is, which was the reign of the pagan emperors at the time in which the church Jesus built came into existence. The one that is to come was the form of government under the Christian emperors beginning with Constantine. Apostasy began to overtake the church during the time of the pagan emperors and was finalized during the time of the so-called “Christian” emperors. With the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. the bishop of Rome supplanted the political authority morphing into the religio-political head of what became the Holy Roman Empire. The angel gives us the identity of the scarlet beast telling us he is also the eighth beast. It is not just Papalism that is the eighth beast as it is the ongoing fact of man-rule displacing the leadership of Christ as head of the church.


Summary of verses 1–11


After showing John the seven bowls of wrath in chapter 16, the angel reviews the effect the spirit of apostasy had on the larger portion of the church that departed from the lordship of Jesus Christ.

The spirit of apostasy is the great harlot; it seeks to pervert and deny the truths of the everlasting gospel and its nature is to persecute those that do not follow its leading. To further its power and influence, the spirit of apostasy produced the Roman Catholic Church that furthered the spread of apostasy and dominated most of what professed to be the church of God.

Let me just add that this is a matter of history and it is not an attack on people that are Roman Catholic. The prophecy concerns the system, not necessarily the people caught up in the system. Certainly there are mere religious professing people under Catholicism, but so are there among Protestants, Evangelicals, and even holiness churches. Are there saved people among Roman Catholics? Remember that it is Jesus that keeps the record of the Book of Life and where true faith has been exercised and there is sincerity that conforms to revealed and known truth, certainly such are among the redeemed.

Never-the-less, we are compelled to proclaim the everlasting gospel in hopes that God’s people that are scattered in all the religious environments can grow in the light of truth and stand together as the biblical church of God, the body of Christ. This understanding is essential in carrying out the end-time revival.