In the the book of Revelation, an angel shows the apostle John a rather disturbing vision of a woman:
Arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation 17:4–5.)
She’s riding a beast with seven heads and ten horns, sitting upon many waters.
What does all this mean? If you do homework on this, you’ll find many possible interpretations, but by now you’ve probably come to understand that I am not a big fan of controversial interpretations. When things get confusing and complicated, that’s when the Holy Spirit steps out of the picture and I don’t want that.
I’ll do my best to lean on what the scriptures have to say, and you can draw your own conclusions. If you know my other writings on this topic, I make an effort to not draw conclusions, but simply and straightforwardly to be familiar with what the Lord has said on the subject. I want to be ready to finally learn the meaning of the scriptures from Him, when the time is right, when the true meaning is evident. My motto: let’s not get wrapped around an axle of contention.
The Beast, the Horns, and the Waters
The woman is riding on a scarlet-colored beast with seven heads and ten horns. We find similar beasts in chapters 12 (a red dragon) and 13 (a beast with seven heads and ten horns; see Revelation 17:3 and compare Revelation 12:3; 13:1.)
The dragon in chapter 12 represents Satan (see Revelation 12:9; Joseph Smith Translation, Revelation 12:8), and we learn in Revelation 13:4 that “the dragon [the devil] gave power unto the beast.” The beast seems to be a symbol of a Satanic order or organization that supports political or governmental leaders or nations.
We also hear from the angel that “the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (see Revelation 17:9), and that the ten horns are ten kings who, at the time of John’s writing, had not yet reigned (see Revelation 17:12).
The seven mountains are commonly attributed to the seven hills of Rome, but we don’t know that the seven mountains are located there. Many cities rest on seven hills. Just a thought: the world has seven continents, each in essence a mountain rising out of an ocean floor.
To me, speculation on who these kings are is not as valuable as just knowing that a succession of political leaders and nations will serve the “great whore,” Babylon the not-so-great.
The water that the woman sits upon represents “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (see Revelation 17:15).
Let me also point out that Daniel had a similar vision. He saw four beasts in Daniel 7, the fourth, having ten horns, was “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” (see Daniel 7:7). There are many interpretations about what this beast represents. I’ll just point out that it seems related to our beast in Revelation 17, though not strictly so.
Who or What Is the Mother of Harlots and Abominations?
The angel tells John that “the woman [the mother of harlots] which [he saw] is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18). A city is “a center of population, commerce, and culture” according the the American Heritage Dictionary.
Nephi also saw a similar vision recorded in chapter 14 of 1 Nephi that identifies the mother of harlots as the “great and abominable church” founded by the devil:
The day cometh that the wrath of God is poured out upon the mother of harlots, which is the great and abominable church of all the earth, whose founder is the devil. . . .(1 Nephi 14:17; see also 1 Nephi 14:9, 10, 13, 16.)
It’s more than just a city in ancient Iraq. It’s not just a place or a congregation of worshipers or a group of citizens. It’s a pervasive socioeconomic, political, governmental, and religious system, founded and supported by and inspired by the devil, that is designed to undermine and destroy souls and the future of God’s kingdom.
In closing, let’s think through the harlot angle for a bit. What does a harlot or prostitute do? (I know, ew, but bear with me.) She or he sells for money one of the most precious gifts we can offer to another human being: our fully trusting, unguarded soul. When we give that away or sell it for money, we in effect deny an ultimate truth of our divinity. (This, of course, doesn’t have a bearing on someone sold into sex slavery.)
Maybe that’s the main business interest of the mother of abominations, the great, abominable church: to steal and destroy the identity of men, women, and children, the essence of their direct connection with God.
I haven’t got adequate words to describe what I think of this deplorable enterprise.