Revelation 17:5: Babylon the Great’s “Mystery”

Babylon the Great

Gaining an understanding of what “mystery” means in a biblical context is an important step to finding the identity of Babylon the Great. The word “mystery” appears in Revelation 17:5, which is the verse where John described the name of the harlot that he saw:

“And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

Debate exists about what the importance of the term “mystery” is in Revelation 17:5. Some people believe that the word “mystery” is an important part of Babylon the Great’s title while others believe that the word “mystery” should not be a part of Babylon the Great’s title. I will explain which side of the debate I currently support in this article.

“Mystery” in Revelation 17:5

The Greek word for “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is “mustērion”. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines a “mystery” as “a truth undiscoverable except by revelation, long hid, now made manifest”.1 Meanwhile, Thayer’s Greek Definitions provides several definitions for the word mystery/mustērion, including the following definition:

1c1b) a hidden purpose or counsel of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly.2

The reason I’ve shared these definitions of the word “mustērion” is that these definitions are not usually what I think of when I think of the word “mystery”. I tend to think of a mystery as an enigma that is difficult to solve (i.e. a crime mystery). However, the definitions provided above seem to be closer to how the word “mystery” is used in several New Testament passages. For example, Christ told His disciples that they have would be able to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God/heaven while others would not understand even though they hear the same words.

Know the Mysteries
Matthew 13:10-13: (10) And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (11) He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (12) For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. (13) Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
Mark 4:10-12: (10) And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. (11) And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, allthese things are done in parables: (12) That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
Luke 8:9-10: (9) And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? (10) And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

The idea that mysteries/hidden truths are made known to certain people is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 2:7-10:

“(7) But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (8) Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (9) But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (10) But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)

The idea that mysteries are truths that are revealed to people is also found in the following passages:

“(25) Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, (26) But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:  (27) To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. Written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church at Cenchrea.” (Romans 16:25-27)

“(25) Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; (26) Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: (27) To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (28) Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:” (Colossians 1:25-28)

Also consider Revelation 1:20. The word “mystery” appears in connection with the seven stars and seven candlesticks in the first half of the verse. In the second half of the verse, Christ revealed the meaning of the seven stars and seven candlesticks:

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20)

Thus, a “mystery” can be viewed as a hidden truth that is revealed to those receptive to God’s words.

Another thing to consider when assessing the importance of the word “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is the fact that the harlot is not referred to as “Mystery Babylon the Great” elsewhere in the Book of Revelation. In contrast, the terms Babylon the Great, great Babylon, Babylon, and Babylon the great city are found. This fact suggests that the word “mystery” is unlikely a significant element of the harlot’s name (i.e. a way to signal that Babylon’s location is symbolic).

The way to signify that a location is symbolic in the Book of Revelation appears in Revelation 11:8. The word “spiritually” (Greek: pneumatikōs) is used to alert readers that Sodom and Egypt symbolically represent a great city where the Lord was crucified (Jerusalem):

“And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” (Revelation 11:8)

The Greek word for “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is mustērion, so it is not the word used in Revelation to signify that a location is symbolic. Therefore, the presence of the word “mystery” is not a reason to dismiss Babylon, Iraq as a candidate to represent Babylon the Great.

Given all of this, I support the view that the word “mystery” is not an important element of the harlot’s name, but is a word that signifies that information about the harlot will be revealed.

What is the “Mystery” of the Woman?

The angel accompanying John told him that the mystery concerning the beast that carries the woman and the woman will indeed be revealed:

“And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.” (Revelation 17:7)

The mystery of the beast that rides the harlot is described in Revelation 17:8-14. Meanwhile, the mystery aspect of Babylon the Great is discussed in Revelation 17:15-18.

(15) And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. (16) And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. (17) For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. (18) And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. (Revelation 17:15-17)

The “mystery” is no longer a mystery after the angel’s words. The woman is revealed to represent a great city that has a very prominent place among nations, multitudes, peoples, and tongues & rules over the kings of the earth.

Feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts about this or any other topic. If you would like to read about the possibility for Babylon, Iraq to represent Babylon the Great, click this link for my article on the topic.

  1. Easton, M.G. “Mystery”. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Thomas Nelson: 1897.
  2. G3466 Thayer’s Greek Definitions

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Chris
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Chris

Wayne says: ““Near the end of God’s wrath” for me means that Babylon the Great’s destruction takes place after a lot of events associated with God’s wrath have taken place. I currently lean towards the view that Babylon the Great is destroyed in the latter portion of the End Times”. I’m inclined to believe that the destruction of Babylon the Great will occur a bit sooner then that, perhaps at the very beginning of God’s wrath or right before during the latter part of the Great Tribulation Why? Because Revelation 18 teaches us that there will be great mourning over… Read more »

Don Whitehead
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Don Whitehead

Chris you are in my opinion, very insightful. I remember the first time I read Revelation 17:5 “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” And all of the descriptives assigned to her, as I read it, as a teenager. My conclusion was the same as yours. It has America written all over it. Take note above: (MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT) The comma between the word mystery, and Babylon. I wouldn’t place to much emphasis on the title as the title is just that: A Descriptive in… Read more »

Andrew Jackson
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St. Matthew 24 holds a lot.

Matthew 24:15 point to Daniel.(whoso readeth, let him understand:)

Ron
Guest
Ron

Babylon and The Great Harlot are two different entities. The Harlot is All False Religion, and is judged by God in Rev. 17 and destroyed. Then Babylon is destroyed in Rev. 18, it represents the World Government/Beast System that tries to govern without God. Thus Babylon is the world being Destroyed by Gods Judgments Seals/Trumps/Vials and she is burning and her commerce is destroyed.

https://disqus.com/home/discussion/channel-endtimebiblicalevents/the_great_whore_and_babylon_are_different_entities_entirely/

Wayne Croley
Guest

Thanks for sharing your thoughts again Fount. I will consider the points you’ve made when I do write about the timing of Babylon the Great’s destruction.

DoUwant2go2heaven?
Guest
DoUwant2go2heaven?

I’ll be looking forward to it my brother!

Fount
Guest
Fount

My research shows that the destruction of Babylon certainly occurs during the last days.  We have two indicators of when during those terrible days that the actual destruction occurs.  The first is the second angel of Revelation 14:8  “And another angel, a second followed, saying, Is fallen, is fallen Babylon the great; because she has given all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her harlotry.”  This is one of the three angels that will ensure that the gospel of Jesus will be preached to the entire world – every single person – before the “rapture”. … Read more »

Wayne Croley
Guest

“Near the end of God’s wrath” for me means that Babylon the Great’s destruction takes place after a lot of events associated with God’s wrath have taken place.  I currently lean towards the view that Babylon the Great is destroyed in the latter portion of the End Times.

DoUwant2go2heaven?
Guest
DoUwant2go2heaven?

Whats up Andrew? Interesting theory you have about the MOB. So from what I understand your saying that brands that we know today is the fulfillment of the MOB? If you can clarify your position I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

DoUwant2go2heaven?
Guest
DoUwant2go2heaven?

Praise God for confirming His word my friend! I agree with the majority of your breakdown. The only question I have is how do you define Babylon being destroyed “near the end of
God’s wrath”?

Wayne Croley
Guest

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Fount. 

Fount
Guest
Fount

Musterion is a mystery that is revealed to some.  You hit this point quite clearly when you quoted Jesus telling His apostles about the secret of the Kingdom of God.  The real secret – that the Jews in the NT never got hold of – was that the Kingdom of God is eternal and thus primarily spiritual in nature. The Mystery of Babylon would have made even first century Christians pause and think.  They would have thought hard because the Babylonians had fallen by 500 BC (600 years earlier).  Not really much of a current threat.  But the false religion… Read more »

Wayne Croley
Guest

Matthew 24:2-3 records the following:  Mat 24:2  And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Mat 24:3  And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?  Matthew 24 strongly parallels the Book of Revelation in several areas, including Matthew 24:30-31 which describes Jesus Christ’s return.  I believe… Read more »

Andrew Jackson
Guest

Does the Good Book literately say the Return of Jesus Christ to for fill the Prophecy of the Revelations, or does it say “Christ” and not Jesus? I would be interested to “Read” the most original, to sea if it was not just mistranslated. Some may have seen the Word/Spell Christ and assume Jesus. To I Jesus has never really gone anywhere, he is with us every day, shining his light on the World for all to see. For I believe Jesus is the Sun, everyone knows Jesus is the Son, it does not Matter how we Spell/Magic/Trick it, every… Read more »

Wayne Croley
Guest

Can you explain what the significance of this is for people reading the comments?  Thank you

Wayne Croley
Guest

You mentioned Isaiah 24.  I have an article about that chapter here: 

https://prophecyproof.org/isaiah-24-fulfilled-end-times/

Andrew Jackson
Guest

Master Wayne, Thanks for the great insight. My thoughts are the The Whore of Babylon, the Whore of the Seven Hills of Rome, and the Whore Hell(an) of Troy(Des Troy), are all the same Old Whore, the mother of all Harlots. Debt Based interest bearing Monies, I can see thou hast quite the pedigree in Finance so I’m a bit surprised ye doth not see it. To I the Western World  Central Banking Houses are the Mufti-Headed hydrant. I hate to  be crass, however when one thinks about it, the Mother of all Harlots is Monies, could thare be Whoring… Read more »