Ezekiel 16 and Revelation 17: Understanding The Great Prostitute

By Mike Coldagelli

The key to understanding the identity of Babylon the Great and what is happening to her in the 70th week of Daniel can be found in the Old Testament and especially in the 16th chapter of Ezekiel. It is my understanding that Babylon the Great is a city, a great city. I also believe that this great city is Jerusalem. In this article I will give the basis for my reasoning by drawing from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel 16. In addition to Revelation 17, I will examine chapters 11, 18, and 21 in that book.

To understand why only Jerusalem can meet the qualifications for the Great Prostitute, we must have an appreciation for what her significance is to the God of the Bible. Let us start with a verse in 2 Chronicles 3 and the name, Moriah.

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV)

The writer of Chronicles calls Mount Zion, “Mount Moriah.” Why is this significant? The only other time the name Moriah appears in the Bible is in Genesis 22.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:1-2 ESV)

God tells Abraham to offer his son on a mountain in the land of Moriah, “of which I shall tell you.” God chose the particular mountain in the land of Moriah. From 2 Chronicles 3:1 we know that Mount Zion was where Abraham was tested and that it was selected from all the mountains of the land of Moriah. God chose Mount Zion.

Further evidence appears in the Psalms.

He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves. He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever. (Psalm 78:67-69 ESV)

For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. (Psalm 132:13-14 ESV)

God has chosen Zion. He desires Zion. He loves Zion. He will dwell there forever. Zion will be the Lord’s resting place forever. It is from passages like these that Jews develop the understanding that Jerusalem is the navel of the world. But if the Lord dwells there, it will become the center of all creation. The Psalms have more to say on Zion’s relation to the Son, the Messiah.

“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:6 ESV)

The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:2 ESV)

Not only has God chosen, desired, and loved Zion, he has installed his king there. God will also send forth or extend from Zion the king’s mighty scepter. The king’s power and authority will go forth from Zion. As a seat of authority for the king, Zion makes Jerusalem a royal city. The royal nature of the city can be traced back to Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). God’s prophetic word has much promise for this royal city.

Ezekiel 16

Ezekiel 16 metaphorically couches God’s relation to Jerusalem in romantic terms. The courtship, marriage, betrayal, and renewal of the marriage covenant play out through the chapter. Verse 8 is pivotal.

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8 ESV)

Jerusalem enters into covenant with the Lord God and becomes his. This a metaphorical marriage covenant. (See Ruth 3:9 with regard to the spreading of the garment.) The NET has, “I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you.” The verse implies a special relationship between God and Jerusalem. “You became mine,” is about as direct as three words can be. God has a purpose for Jerusalem which is expressed in the above Psalms. Jerusalem after entering into covenant with God advances to royalty. (NIV has, “rose to be a queen”) She is a royal city.

Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. (Ezekiel 16:13 ESV)

But though Jerusalem advanced to royalty, she plays the whore and gives herself to any passerby.

But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. (Ezekiel 16:15 ESV).

Verses 16 through 25 catalogue idolatrous behavior (see Ezekiel chapter 8) including child sacrifice that Jerusalem had engaged in. Verses 26 through 29 name three nations with whom Jerusalem has “played the whore.” They are Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Jerusalem goes from one to the next, unable to satisfy herself. In verse 32 Jerusalem is called an “adulterous wife.”

Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! (Ezekiel 16:32 ESV)

Because of Jerusalem’s betrayal of her husband, God pronounces judgment on her.

“Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. (Ezekiel 16:35-37 ESV)

A particular phrase needs to be noted, “I will gather all your lovers.” And then, “I will gather them against you.” The Lord God will gather Jerusalem’s lovers against her.*(See Addendum) In Ezekiel’s chronological setting, the lover about to be gathered against Jerusalem is Babylon. But the chronological setting is not determined. “Nakedness” is referred to twice in verse 37. “Nakedness” is mentioned again in verse 39.

 And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. (Ezekiel 16:38-39 ESV)

Jerusalem will be judged as, “women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged.” She is guilty of adultery and bloodshed. This is not the only instance in which Ezekiel associates Jerusalem with blood. She is called “the bloody city” (See Ezekiel 22:1-4). Jerusalem will be given “into their hands,” into her lovers hands. Her lovers make her “naked and bare.”

They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. (Ezekiel 16:40-41)

Jerusalem’s lovers also stone her and cut her “to pieces with swords.” They burn her houses. The second sentence of verse 41 suggests the eschaton may be in view with the declaration, “I will make you stop playing the whore.” “You shall give payment no more,” implies a finality, a complete and final ceasing of an activity.

So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. (Ezekiel 16:42 ESV)

Jealousy here is not to confused with human jealousy. It means that another has taken the rightful place of God in Jerusalem’s affections. The jealousy departs because Jerusalem no more plays the whore and has returned to her God, her husband. Once this judgment has passed, God’s wrath will be satisfied. He will be calm and angry no more. A passage in Isaiah speaks of comfort for Jerusalem.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV)

Jerusalem has received double for her sins, but finally her warfare has ended. Ezekiel 16:42 and Isaiah 40:1-2 need to be understood as talking of the same eschatological condition (See also Isaiah 51:12, 52:7-10). The warfare that the city has received at the hand of her lovers is over. She has been punished in double portion. God is calm and angry no more. The end of warfare must be associated with Daniel 9:26 and its prophecy about Jerusalem, “to the end there shall be war” (ESV). Also in view is the understanding that the end described in Daniel 12:7 is the end to the great war of Daniel 10:1. When war comes to an end Jerusalem will be comforted, by her husband.

In verses 44-52 Jerusalem is compared to her sisters, Samaria and Sodom. But, she is worse than them. Jerusalem is judged worse than Sodom. In verse 53 God promises to restore the fortunes of Jerusalem.

“For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. (Ezekiel 16:59-60 ESV)

Finally God promises a new covenant which will replace the covenant of verse 8. This will be an everlasting covenant and needs to be understood as the same covenant established in Jeremiah 31:31. In Jeremiah 31:32 God says that the new covenant will not be like, “my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.” The marriage metaphor is prominent in Jeremiah also. Jesus is the administrator of this new covenant in his blood.

Revelation 17

If a police investigator questions a suspect, he looks for consistencies and inconsistencies in the suspect’s statement. As consistencies or inconsistencies pile up, they move the investigator in a general direction as to the veracity of the suspect with regard to involvement or lack of involvement in the crime. If we do a point by point comparison of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16 and Babylon the Great in Revelation 17 and 18, how many points of commonality would you need to consider the possibility of the two cities being one and the same?

Let us list a few:

  • Both are cities (Rev. 17:18)
  • Both cities are prostitutes/harlots (Rev. 17:2)
  • Both are adorned with precious jewelry (Rev. 17:4)
  • Both shed blood (Rev. 17:6)
  • Both have their lovers come against them (Rev. 17:16)
  • Both are made naked by their lovers (Rev. 17:16)
  • Both are burned by their lovers (Rev. 17:16)
  • Both are royal cities (Rev. 17:18)
  • Both have God’s people in them (Rev. 18:4)

If we add Isaiah 40:2 to the mix we have:

Both receive double for their deeds/sins (Rev. 18:6)

That is ten points of commonality. Good police investigators are forming an opinion by now. But if that is not enough, let us investigate further. Babylon the Great is called, “the great city” (Revelation 17:18), in addition to being royal (having dominion over the kings of the earth). Revelation 11:8 refers to another “great city” that we know to be royal.

 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pitwill make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:7-8 ESV)

That Jerusalem should be called Sodom, should not surprise us. Jerusalem is judged worse than Sodom (Ezekiel 16:46-50). Is there more than one “great city” in Revelation? The use of the definite article in both 11:8 and 17:18 makes the consideration of more than one “great city” a linguistic conundrum. “The great city,” “where their Lord was crucified,” can only be Jerusalem. By extension, “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18 ESV) must also Jerusalem. It might be stated that both Jerusalem, and Babylon the Great, are the great royal city.

The phrase, “where their Lord was crucified,” brings up another point of commonality with Babylon the Great, the blood of the prophets.

 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” (Revelation 18:24 ESV)

Though the blood of the prophets is found in Babylon the Great, the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3), who prophesy for 1260 days, are killed in Jerusalem (Revelation 11:7-8). The prophet like Moses, Jesus, their Lord, was crucified in Jerusalem. So, both cities, in addition to shedding blood, shed the blood of prophets. Jesus says in Matthew 23:37:

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (Matthew 23:37 ESV)

A fourth prophet, Stephen, comes to mind. Now we have two more points of commonality. Both are called “the great city” and both have the blood of the prophets in them. That makes twelve points of commonality.

Twelve points of commonality and the precedent in Revelation 11 of John calling Jerusalem, “Sodom and Egypt,” would bring most investigators to a conclusion. If John can call Jerusalem “Sodom and Egypt,” he can call Jerusalem, “Babylon the Great.” Jerusalem is our perpetrator. She is “Babylon the Great.”

I have not exhausted Old or New Testament evidence. My aim was to bring Ezekiel 16 into sharp focus. Many suggestions are offered for the great whore’s identity, but most do so with no knowledge of Ezekiel 16. If you have read this article, you cannot claim that ignorance.

But one more item for our investigative check list. The bride of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21.

 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:2-3 ESV)

The new Jerusalem is portrayed as a bride, presented to her husband, the Lamb. Verse 3 has the terms of the new marriage covenant. Psalm 132:13-14 has come to pass. Where is the old Jerusalem? She is “fallen, fallen” (Revelation 14:8).

Why is Jerusalem uniquely qualified to be the Mother of Prostitutes (the greatest or worst of prostitutes)? It is because the husband who has chosen her has so graciously chosen her.

 *Addendum

Zechariah 14:2 states that God will gather “all the nations” against Jerusalem. It is my opinion that the nations gathered against Jerusalem in Zechariah will be her lovers. “All the nations” must be understood as “the kings of the earth” with which the Great Prostitute commits adultery. In other words, “lovers” equals “all the nations,” equals “kings of the earth.” The “kings of the earth,” are not an amorphous group of kings, but the ten horns of Revelation 17:12-13,16-17. Authority over “all the nations” is divided among them. When the ten horns/kings give their royal power and authority to the beast (Revelation 17:13,17), he receives his forty-two month authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Revelation 13:7).

A further word on the nations that Jerusalem loves. The house of Israel’s desire for these nations is displayed in a passage in Ezekiel 20 containing two, “As surely as I live” declarations, by the Lord God.

 When you present your sacrifices– when you make your sons pass through the fire – you defile yourselves with all your idols to this very day. Will I allow you to seek me, O house of Israel? As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I will not allow you to seek me!  “‘What you plan  will never happen. You say, “We will belike the nations, like the clans of the lands, who serve gods of wood and stone.”As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, with a powerful hand and an outstretched arm,  and with an outpouring of rage, I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the nations, and will gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a powerful hand and an outstretched arm and with an outpouring of rage! (Ezekiel 20:31-34 NET)

The above passage exposes the house of Israel’s vain, futile plan (Psalm 2:1). She says, “We will be like the nations, like the clans of the lands, who serve gods of wood and stone.” Israel desires to blend in with the nations, seek accommodation with the nations, and lose her identity with the God of Abraham. In this, she becomes one of the the rebellious, conspiring nations of Psalm 2:1. The phrase, “the kings of the earth,” appears in both Psalm 2:2 and Revelation 17:2. Is the phrase coincidental or by design? The king that is set in Zion (Psalm 2:6) is the Son. All of Psalm 2 has eschatological application. Thus Israel/Jerusalem in taking a stand with (Psalm 2:2) “the kings of the earth,” i.e., commits fornication with them (Revelation 17:2).

God assures them, “What you plan will never happen.” What God is saying here is that, though you want to be like the nations, though you love them and desire to be like them, it will not happen, “I will be king over you.” Idolatry is equated with the nations because that is what they do. If Israel desires the nations, she desires their idolatry. The fornications with “the kings of the earth” in Revelation 17 by the great prostitute (Jerusalem) is rebellion against God’s rule over her, but God says, “I will be king over you,” i.e., I will install my anointed One as king in Zion (Psalm 2:6).

Thus there is the need to break up the love relationship between Jerusalem and her “lovers”, the “nations,” the “kings of the earth.” God changes the love of the “kings of the earth” for Jerusalem to hate (Revelation 17:16). They turn on Jerusalem. It is God’s purpose that they do so (Revelation 17:17). They desolate her. They make her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. In this way God pours out his rage or wrath (Luke 21:23) on Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem desires “the kings of the earth,” God gives her over to them (Revelation 11:2).

The “kings of the earth” act in concert with the beast. They turn on Jerusalem at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27, Zechariah 14:2, Luke 21:20, Revelation 17:16). God makes it impossible for Jerusalem to continue to desire her lovers (the kings of the earth) or to conspire and stand against God and his Anointed One (Psalm 2:1-2) with them, because they (all the nations/Gentiles, i.e., beast and ten horns/kings of the earth) trample her (Revelation 11:2).

The last phrase of verse 34 above, “with an outpouring rage,” is rendered in the ESV, “with wrath poured out.” The ESV makes more sense. The gathering comes after the wrath. A wrathful gathering interpretation creates problems of contradiction with scattering and gathering. Scattering is the wrathful act. Gathering of God’s people is predominantly represented as reconciliation.