The European debt crisis still simmers. Are we seeing a geopolitical development long foretold in Bible prophecy emerging before our eyes? What exactly is occurring with this world crisis?
For more than a generation the publishers of The Good News magazine have focused on Europe and the Middle East from the perspective of Bible prophecy. The scriptures of Revelation 17 and 18 in particular have been applied to the developing European Union as a fulfillment of a revived Holy Roman Empire—symbolized as a "beast" with a woman riding its back, a union of politics and religion described as "Babylon the Great" that exists for a brief time.
But with the latest economic crisis in Europe revealing fundamental flaws in the EU, is it time to reassess this explanation? Is it possible for Europe to become the kind of dominant power described in the Bible? Let's take another look at what prophecy reveals and address this key question: Where will this system called "Babylon the Great" come from?
The strange prophecy
Revelation 17 describes the unusual vision the apostle John saw—an end-time power symbolized as a beast ridden by a woman. He saw a "great harlot who sits on many waters" (verse 1). In prophetic symbolism, the waters and seas here represent "peoples, multitudes, nations and languages" (verse 15, New International Version).
This woman rides on "a scarlet beast . . . full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." On the woman's forehead "a name was written: mystery, babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (verses 1, 5). This woman is shown to have several unsavory attributes as she interacts with the Beast power and its peoples. John's attention is fixed on the woman as he considers the wide range of her impact.
Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, a woman is used to symbolize God's people collectively—ultimately His true Church (compare Revelation 12:17; 19:7). Since the woman in chapter 17 is depicted as a prostitute, it's clear she represents not the faithful Church, but an apostate church or religious system.