These verses show the Woman, the harlot, sitting upon many waters, the Beast, and seven mountains (a mountain is a biblical symbol of a nation), and in verse 15 the waters of which the Beast consists are defined as peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. In such a context, sitting is the Bible's symbol of authority, having power over. It is as though she gives orders and is served.
This description conveys two characteristics: First, the scope of her influence is wide-ranging, over many nations. Second, the Beast consists of peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. The Woman, however, is not described in that manner; she is depicted as one unit. Therefore, a distinct possibility is that God sees the Woman in this end-time prophecy as one powerful and influential people, as contrasted to the Beast, which consists of many diverse peoples who, at first, cannot combine and coordinate their strengths to counterbalance and perhaps overcome the more united Woman.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot
For many years, we have maintained that a great power, which the Bible calls "the Beast," will rise out of Europe as the last reincarnation of the Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-10; 17:1-13). As described in Daniel 2:40-43, it has ten "toes," composed of iron and clay and divided on two "feet" - Eastern and Western Europe, we have interpreted - as the Roman Empire was similarly divided. This Beast power would dominate the world politically and militarily (Daniel 11:36-39), bringing on the "time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time" (Daniel 12:1).
Present-day Europe, however, appears particularly unqualified for such a role, which opens up a few possibilities:
1. The Beast is not European. Our long-held understanding is hard to toss aside because the biblical clues seem to fit the Europe-based Roman and Holy Roman Empires so squarely. If Europe or the EU is not the Beast power, then it must surely have a European component.
2. Christ's return is farther off than we think. Europe is so weak - militarily, in particular - that it could take years for its war machine to grow to world domination. In particular, Europe is in no shape to defeat the U.S., a present necessity for world hegemony.
3. Something other than Europe will destroy the U.S., and the Beast will fill the power vacuum. A few nuclear bombs or other weapons of mass destruction - possibly terrorist-related - might cut America down to size (Ezekiel 7:1-9). Europe could then appropriate NATO assets abroad and become a superpower overnight.
4. The U.S., originally colonized and founded by Europeans, will become a part of the Beast power, supplying its military might. Many have wondered if any Israelite country would join with the Beast, especially since the prophecies seem to suggest it is a Gentile empire, like Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. However, the nations of Israel today believe they are Gentiles and function as Gentiles in many respects, meaning it is not beyond the realm of possibility biblically (see Romans 9-11).
Other possibilities surely exist, and in this time of uncertainty, there is no way to determine whether any of these are real. Such is the character of prophecy. We are assured, however, that, "Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
A Growing Divide
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 17:12: