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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Revelation 17



Other Authors


These Chapters are related to each other something as 11, 12. Those seem between them to give an account of a judgement on Jerusalem, these seem between them to give an account of the judgement on Babylon. But neither account seems to be strictly continuous; in both the historical background and the standpoint of the Seer seem to change. The Beast makes war against the Witnesses and profanes the holy city; then he disappears as completely as the Witnesses themselves from the conflict between the Woman and the Dragon, which typifies the desolation of the earthly Jerusalem; yet the vision in ch. 11 is obviously not complete in itself; nor is that in ch. 17. The Seer is told that he is to be shewn the judgement upon the great whore, but at the end of the chapter the judgement, though definitely foretold, is still in the future. In the greater part of ch. 18 (Revelation 17:4-8; Rev 17:21–24 are an exception), the judgement seems to be already over; and if this could be explained by the analogy of other prophecies it would still be remarkable that the beast and the horns which are so important in ch. 17. disappear completely in ch. 18: for there is no clear ground for identifying the horns, whose dominion is both future and ephemeral, with the kings of the earth, the ancient lovers of Babylon, who bemoan her fall. Nor is there any trace in ch. 18 of any human instrument of the divine vengeance. Again, in Revelation 18:1-3 Babylon has long been desolate, all kinds of foul creatures have made the ruins their home, while in Revelation 17:9-18 the ruins are still smoking, and according to Revelation 19:3 they are to smoke for ever. Such changes of imagery of course are not contradictions, but they suggest that prophecies of different dates upon the same subject have been brought together.

Verse 1

1. εἶς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά ἀγγέλων. So Revelation 21:9 : cf. Revelation 5:5.

δείξω σοι τὸ κρίμα. Which had been exhibited, and described in general terms, in Revelation 16:19; but the seer is now to have a nearer view of it, and describe it in detail.

τῆς πόρνης τῆς μεγάλης. The image of the harlot is taken from the Old Testament description, not of Babylon, which when personified is a virgin (Isaiah 47:1), but of Tyre (Isaiah 23:15 sqq.) and Nineveh (Nahum 3:4). The truth is, the Antichristian Empire is conceived as embodying the various forms of evil that existed in previous earthly empires. They have existed and become great, in virtue of what was good in them (see St Augustine’s City of God V. xii. 3, 5, xv. &c.; Epist. cxxxviii. 17: cf. Plat. Rep. I. xxiii. pp. 351–2); they are the divinely appointed protectors of God’s people (Jeremiah 29:7; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:2) though their possible persecutors: and so they at once hinder (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) the coming of Antichrist, and foreshadow his coming by acting in his spirit. The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar had (as no one can read the Book of Daniel without seeing) something nobler in it than mere conquering pride, and to this nobler element Isaiah does justice: but St John sees (it does not follow that the natural man will see) that in the New Babylon the baser element is supreme.

But another interpretation has been suggested. In Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14 we found that the Woman, the City of God and the Mother of His Son, fled into the wilderness, and there was concealed through the time of the Beast’s reign: and some have thought that the Woman in the Wilderness whom we meet with here is actually the same as the one we then parted with—the faithful City becomes an harlot (Isaiah 1:21).

This view is an unpleasant one, and seems out of harmony with the tone either of chap. 12. or of this chapter. But it is supported by the argument, that the image of a harlot is most frequently in the O.T. used of the unfaithful City of God: Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1 sqq. Jeremiah 3:6 sqq.; Ezekiel 16:23; Hosea 1-3; Hosea 4:15; Micah 1:7 : while it is applied to heathen cities only in Isaiah 23 fin.; Nahum 3:4, already quoted.

On the other hand, in almost all those passages it is insisted on, more or less expressly, that the whoredoms of unfaithful Israel have the special guilt of adultery: and of that there is no hint here, the Lord does not say of Babylon as of Aholibah that she was “Mine.” This seems to destroy the parallel with the former nine cases, which moreover is less close, as regards the details of language, than that with the two latter.

And further, the identification of the two Women is only possible on the assumption, that the Mother of chap. 12 is the true Christian Church, and the Harlot of this chapter the apostate Christian Church of Rome. Now we have seen reason to reject the former view: nor does the latter appear any more tenable. This subject is discussed in the Introduction: it may be enough to refer to St John’s own words in Ephesians 1 1 John 4:2-3, as proving that the spirit of the theology (whatever may be said of the political attitude) of the existing Roman Church is, on the whole, of God—that it certainly is not the spirit of Antichrist.

Neither on the other hand is it possible to restrict the application of this chapter to the pagan Rome of the past: there is hardly anything in the Rome of the republic, not much even in the Rome of the Cæsars, to suggest the picture of the kings of the earth committing fornication with her. It is clear from Ezekiel 23:5; Ezekiel 23:12; Ezekiel 23:14, that Nineveh and Babylon conquered as much by the fascination of a higher civilisation as by military force: in a limited sense it may be true that the house of Herod and even Tiridates yielded to a like seduction; but Antioch and Alexandria were much more splendid than the Rome of Pompey. On the other hand the Rome of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance has found her chief if not her only temporal strength in her memories and her splendour: she has been by turns the Delilah of Germany, of France, and of Spain.

ἐπὶ τῶν ὑδάτων πολλῶν. Jeremiah 51:13. Literally true of the old Babylon, it is explained of the new in Revelation 17:15.

Verses 1-6


Verse 2

2. μεθʼ ἦς ἐπόρνευσαν. Isaiah 23:17.

οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν γῆν. Jeremiah 51:7.

Verse 3

3. εἰς ἔρημον. Probably a reminiscence of Isaiah 21:1, τὸ ὄραμα τῆς ἐρήμου, LXX., who omit the puzzling words “of the sea.” If, as good critics still maintain, that prophecy belongs to the age of Isaiah, the original reference is to the Arabian desert across which the prophet hears in spirit the first tidings of one of the failures of Babylon to assert her independence. Babylonia, though naturally very fertile, is now a wilderness, but we do not know how far the desolation had gone in St John’s day. It may be relevant to compare the present desolation of the once populous Campagna of Rome, if we suppose, which is uncertain, that the seer is carried into the wilderness because he is to see a vision of desolation.

ἐν πνεύματι. Cf. Revelation 1:10, Revelation 4:2, Revelation 21:10.

θηρίον κόκκινον. Undoubtedly the same as the Beast of Revelation 13:1-8, though there his colour was not mentioned. It is symbolic (compare that of the dragon, Revelation 12:3), as being the colour of blood: perhaps also suggestive of the imperial purple.

γέμοντα ὀνόματα βλασφημίας. No reason has ever been given why a writer, who elsewhere constructs γέμω regularly with a genitive, should construct it here with an accusative, except that he possibly does the same in the next verse. There is of course a reference to Revelation 13:1. The blasphemous names of the heads of the beast, i.e. the imperial titles, make the whole body full of names of blasphemy.

Verse 4

4. περιβεβλημένη πορφυροῦν καὶ κόκκινον. Protestant interpreters have been fond of applying this description to the robes of Roman bishops and cardinals: and perhaps not altogether unjustly. See Introduction, p. lxxii.

κεχρυσωμένη χρυσῷ. Lit. “gilded with gold,” and, but for the words which follow, the literal sense might be right; the imperial harlot Messalina did the like, Juv. VI. 123. If not, it is a question whether we are to suppose a zeugma or translate κεχρυσωμένη “bejewelled.”

λίθῳ τιμίῳ. See on Revelation 15:6; of course λίθῳ is used collectively.

ποτήριον χρυσοῦν. See Jeremiah 51:7 already quoted. We can hardly say that the cup serves her to drink the blood of saints and martyrs (Revelation 17:6), but it is meant to suggest that she is drunken, and invites to drunkenness, as well as to uncleanness.

γέμον βδελυγμάτων. It is the cup of idolatry and the βδελύγματα are idols.

καὶ τὰ ἀκάθαρτα τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς. The pollutions of her whoredom are the same as the abominations of her idols: neither the revisers nor the editors of the Variorum Bible consider Düsterdieck’s suggestion, since adopted by Weiss, that the accusative may depend upon ἔχουσα as easily as on γέμον, worth notice, and probably it is condemned by the Latin translators, who all make the connexion the same as in A. V[619], though they get rid of the irregular construction.

Verse 5

5. ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῆς. Probably not branded on the flesh, but tied on as a label, as Roman harlots actually did wear their names.

΄υστήριον. Interpreters compare “the mystery of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. The use of the word in Revelation 1:20 may illustrate its meaning here: it indicates that “Babylon the Great” is to be understood in a mystical sense.

τῶν πορνῶν. “Of the harlots.” She is the chief of these, and the cause of the rest being what they are. Therefore, though the fornications of Babylon are to be understood spiritually, yet her guilt includes the actual licentiousness of the Rome of Nero and Domitian, and in a wider sense “the sin of great cities” generally.

Verse 6

6. τῶν ἁγίων. Revelation 18:24.

τῶν μαρτύρων. See on Revelation 2:13.

θαῦμα. “Wonder,” which A. V[620] changes into “admiration” for the sake of variety: the neutral sense of the latter word is the oldest, and is still found in Scott’s Woodstock and in Hamilton’s Discussions.

Verse 7

7. Διατί ἐθαύμασας; Here again A. V[621] varies the expression “wherefore didst thou marvel?” For the angel’s surprise at the seer’s not comprehending at once, see on Revelation 7:14.

ἐγώ σοι ἐρῶ. Cf. ἐγὼ δὲ δώσω σοι τὸν ἀμπελῶνα, 1 Kings 21:7, which also comes after a question; Daniel 10:12, ἠκούσθησαν οἱ λόγοι σου, καὶ ἐγὼ ἧλθον ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου, Revelation 11:1 καὶ ἐγὼ ἐν ἔτει πρώτῳ Κύρου ἔστην εἰς κράτος καὶ ἰσχύν. It is not quite certain that the emphasis of ἐγὼ depends on a contrast between the angel and the seer.

τὸ μυστήριον, i.e. the mystical meaning: see on Revelation 17:5.

τῆς γυναικός, καὶ τοῦ θηρίου. The latter is explained first, Revelation 17:8-14 : the Woman is not clearly defined till Revelation 17:18. The delay is intentional, but the exposition passes to and fro between the Horns and the Beast, and the Woman, who is approached again and again in a way that recalls the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel, which also passes to and fro between the Word and the Man sent from God whose name was John.

Verses 7-18


Verse 8

8. ἦν, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν. On the whole, ancient tradition, where it speaks, and modern criticism agree in the interpretation of these words. Nero, who killed himself in June A.D. 68, “had been, and was not” at the date of this vision: but his reappearance was looked for by many, with various feelings of hope and fear. When his dethronement and execution were imminent, it was said that he had talked of going to the East, and establishing his throne at Jerusalem (see on Revelation 11:9): while one form (see on Revelation 16:12) of the belief that he survived was that he had fled to the Parthians, and would return under their protection.

Now St John is not to be held responsible for all the opinions, superstitious or at least irrational, that were held by his pagan contemporaries about the return of Nero from the East. But when we find that the belief in Nero’s destined return was held by Christians for the next four centuries, if not longer, when it had quite passed out of the minds of pagans, it becomes probable that St John was answerable for their belief; at any rate, they grounded it on his words. And it is possible that he means to tell us, that the Antichrist who is to come will actually be Nero risen from the dead (we notice, that in the words of the text his death, the reality of which is historically certain, is not denied, but affirmed): more probably, Antichrist will be a new Nero in the same way as he will be a new Antiochus, an enemy of God as they were, typified by them inasmuch as they were actuated by his spirit. It is needless to suppose with M. Renan that Nero is called “the Beast” in allusion to a loathsome atrocity said to be committed by him disguised as one: the analogy of Daniel 7. is what determines the image.

μέλλει ἀναβαίνειν ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου. Revelation 11:7, where see note. Perhaps there is a distinction between the appearance of the Beast indicated here and that of Revelation 13:1. The persecuting Roman Empire, which was antichristian in posse, arose “out of the sea” like other Empires of the earth (Daniel 7:3), out of the confused and often sinful, but not infra-natural, turmoil of the life of this world. But the final and developed antichristian and persecuting power, the Empire of Antichrist himself, will have a directly infernal source.

εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγειν. So Revelation 17:11 : cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The fulfilment of this threat is indicated in Revelation 19:20.

θαυμάσονται. Revelation 13:3-4.

ὧν οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄνομα. Revelation 13:8.

βλεπόντων. The genitive may either be absolute, as it must be in Revelation 1:15 if πεπυρωμένης be right, or irregularly attracted to ὦν.

καὶ παρέσται. The word is designedly chosen to remind readers of the Parousia.

Verse 9

9. ὧδε ὁ νοῦς. Compare Revelation 13:18. As there, the words seem to indicate that “the mind which hath wisdom” will recognise the meaning of the image, though it is obscurely expressed. But the “wisdom” required is not merely the faculty of guessing riddles—it is the wisdom enlightened from above; including however, we may suppose, an intelligent knowledge of the facts and principles of human history. At this point the explanation of the Angel seems to be interrupted till it is resumed at καὶ λέγει μοι, Revelation 17:15. If so, as the seer is addressed in Revelation 17:12, we should have to suppose we have the inspired reflection of another prophet.

ἑπτὰ ὄρη. These words prove decisively that Babylon represents the City of Rome. It is needless to quote classical descriptions of Rome as the City of the Seven Mountains: the designation is as unmistakeable as the name would be. Nevertheless, it is curious that the number is rather conventionally than actually true. The original seven hills were the Palatine, the Germalus (virtually a part of the Palatine hill), the Velia (the low ridge crossing the Forum), the Cispius, Oppius, and Fagutal (three summits of the Esquiline), and the Suburra which is not a hill at all. But Rome in the days of its greatness covered the Palatine, Capitol, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline (two of the ridges of which, though not very well defined, are yet as distinct as the two next), the Quirinal, the Viminal (these two were never counted among the “seven mountains,” though higher than any of them, but were always called “hills,” perhaps because collis was the Sabine name and mons the Latin), and the Janiculum and Vatican on the other side of the Tiber. In modern Rome the buildings have spread over the Pincian Hill, but the Caelian, Palatine, Aventine, are nearly uninhabited, and the same was true till lately of the Esquiline.

Verse 10

10. καὶ βασιλεῖς ἑπτά εἰσιν. “And they [the seven heads] are seven kings”: they have a double significance—standing both for the seven mountains and the seven kings.

Who are these kings? According to the view mentioned on Revelation 13:2, that the Beast is not the Roman Empire, but an embodiment of the worldly imperial spirit, it is plausibly held that the kings are kingdoms or empires (like the “kings of Persia and Grecia” in Daniel 8)—that they are the four kingdoms of Daniel 2, 7, together with Egypt and Assyria that came before Babylon, and the kingdoms of modern Europe that come after Rome. On this view, the ten horns are all on one head: it is this ten-horned head which receives the deadly wound of Revelation 13:3 : i.e. the Beast is nearly slain (the Empire as an evil and persecuting power overthrown) by the conversion, first of the later Emperors, and then of the sovereigns of Europe, to Christianity: but he revives—e.g. in Julian after Constantine, and again in the neo-paganism of the Renaissance and the persecutions of the Reformation.

With all the elements of truth that must be acknowledged in this view, it seems hardly possible to doubt that the Beast, so closely united with the City of the Seven Hills, represents the Roman Empire particularly. On this view, the “kings” have been taken to represent forms of government—Rome having been successively governed, it is said, by kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, emperors, and Christian emperors (the last being taken, as before, to be the wounded head: some however make the conversion of Constantine a wound to the sixth head, and count the Ostrogoth kings as the seventh). But considering that the dictatorship, the decemvirate, and even the tribunate, were transitory episodes in the Roman government—the first avowedly exceptional, the second both exceptional and ephemeral, and all three, as well as the primitive monarchy, probably unknown to St John’s original readers,—this view does not appear even plausible.

It remains then that the kings be taken as individual Emperors of Rome (it must be remembered that though these were never called “kings” in Latin, the Greek title βασιλεύς was constantly applied to the Emperors: see e.g. 1 St Peter Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:17). Who then were the first seven Emperors? According to the common reckoning, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius—(often called by modern writers by his nickname Caligula, “Little Boots”): of the twelve Caesars, Julius and Claudius were better known to history by their gentile names; Augustus by his title; Vespasian and Domitian, both younger sons, were known by cognomina formed from the name of their mothers; Titus was known by the praenomen he shared with his father and brother; Tiberius, Gaius and Nero were known by their praenomina, the latter having received a cognomen of Claudius as his praenomen, Galba and Otho by their cognomina (while the elder brother of the latter was commonly known as Titianus, which was a cognomen not inherited from his father),—Claudius, Nero, and Galba. But Julius Caesar, though he received the title of Imperator as the later Emperors did, cannot be considered, and is not by careful historians, as the first of the “Emperors,” if the Empire be spoken of as a settled form of government. His authority in the state, so far as it was constitutional at all, lay in his Dictatorship: which office was legally abolished immediately after his death, and never revived. He was however deified, which marks his recognition as, so to speak, the founder of the dynasty. Augustus, and the later Emperors, ruled not as Dictator, but as Chief of the Senate with the power of Tribune.

οἱ πέντε ἔπεσαν. Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, and Nero. Is then the “one who is” Galba? So he is generally understood by those who adopt this scheme of interpretation: and if so, the date of the vision (see Introduction) is fixed at a time between June A.D. 68, and the 15th of January A.D. 69, when Galba was murdered. He was succeeded by Otho, who certainly “continued a short space,” if he could be said to continue at all: he killed himself, on April 15th, when defeated by the army of Vitellius, who had revolted from Galba a few days before his murder by Otho.

But the rest of the prophecy, on this view, received nothing that can be reckoned as even a typical fulfilment. Vitellius, despite many contemptible vices, was a good-natured man, and not a bad ruler, so far as he had energy to rule at all. He could not be considered as an incarnation of the Antichristian power, nor even as a revival of Nero, though he, as well as Otho, treated Nero’s memory with respect. And considering that Galba had only reigned in Rome for a few weeks before his death (though he had been acknowledged longer), that Otho never had an uncontested title, and Vitellius only from about the end of April to July 1st, it seems likelier that these three are passed over, as claimants of empire (and they had not been the only ones: see on Revelation 17:12) rather than actual emperors. Thus, the sixth king will be Vespasian, who was proclaimed emperor on July 1st, A.D. 69: his troops gained a decisive victory over those of Vitellius late in October, and Rome was taken, and Vitellius killed, on Dec. 21st.

Vespasian reigned well and peaceably, and was succeeded by his elder son Titus, in June A.D. 79: who “continued a short space,” till Sept. 12th, A.D. 81, when he died, aged 40;—murdered, as some said, by his brother Domitian, who succeeded him, and who was regarded, by pagans and Christians alike, as a revival of Nero (Juv. IV. 38; Tert[622] Apol. c. 7). Like Nero, he persecuted the Christians: like Nero, he indulged in the most hideous vices: though unlike Nero, he had a strong sense of decorum, and was fanatically attached to the Roman religion. Further than this, the vision does not follow the fortunes of the Empire in detail. At the point where the type of Antichrist comes into the history, the prophecy introduces Antichrist himself: cf. Daniel 11, as understood by most orthodox interpreters.

ὀλίγον αὐτὸν δεῖ μεῖναι. Both “continue” and “short” seem to be emphatic—his reign is to be short, but not ephemeral. Thus the designation seems more appropriate to Titus than to Otho. St Victorinus (in the present text) applies it to Nerva, who like Titus reigned mildly for under two years. But his successor Trajan (though he to a certain extent sanctioned the persecution of Christianity, and is said himself to have condemned St Ignatius) was anything but an Antichrist. It may seem as though St Victorinus (or his editor) were making a rather clumsy attempt to reconcile the interpretation here given, which he was acquainted with as a tradition, with the general belief that St John was writing under Domitian.

Verse 11

11. καὶ αὐτὸς κ.τ.λ. The analogy of this Book is in favour of connecting the first two words closely as in A. V[623], “even he is the eighth and is of the seven,” otherwise it might be possible and even preferable to translate “both himself is the eighth and is of the seven.”

ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ is most easily understood “is one of the seven”—i.e. the eighth emperor of Rome, in whom the antichristian spirit of the empire finds its personal embodiment, will be a revival of one of his seven predecessors—viz. Nero, the fifth of them. The words can however be taken to mean “the successor and result of the seven, following and springing out of them”; if a scheme of interpretation be preferred with which this meaning harmonises better.

εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγει. Implies something more than the “fall” of the other kings.

Verse 12

12. τὰ δέκα κέρατα. If the traditional view now supported by Lagarde be right, that the Fourth Beast in Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, the ten horns, Daniel 7:24, probably, though the Little Horn is their successor, represent kingdoms related to the Roman Empire as the kingdoms of the Diadochi to that of Alexander. Such are the principal kingdoms of modern Europe: and in the recognition of this fact lies the key to mediaeval and to much of modern history. (See Sir F. Palgrave’s Normandy and England, Intr. c. 1, English Commonwealth, c. 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, and Dr Bryce’s Holy Roman Empire, passim.) The number ten is probably to be taken as exact, but we cannot yet point to it as being definitely realised. It is remarkable that the kingdoms of Europe have (as is pointed out by Elliott, Horae Apoc. Part IV. c. iv. § 2) tended at many periods to that number: but there are now more than ten sovereign states in Christendom, or even in Europe only. Judging from the analogy of the Macedonian kingdoms (see on Revelation 16:12) we may guess that only those are included which are of considerable size and power, and have some claim to continue the imperial tradition of the common predecessor. The existing states of Germany, France, Austria, and Russia have such a claim (which they assert, more or less constantly and more or less legitimately, by the use of the imperial title): so has our own country, which has claimed rank as an empire coordinate with continental ones since the days of Edgar the Peaceable: so (more doubtfully) have Spain and Portugal in virtue of their memories, and so have the new kingdoms of Greece and Italy in virtue of their hopes. A tenth can hardly be named, for Sweden though powerful was not imperial even under Gustavus Adolphus or Charles XII., and Turkey could hardly be thus coupled with the states of Christendom: but believers will watch the developement of “the Eastern Question” with a solemn interest.

St Hippolytus, who assumes that the ten horns here correspond exactly to the ten horns in Daniel, infers from Daniel 11:43 that Egypt, Libya and Aethiopia will be three of the ten kingdoms overthrown by the Little Horn, whom he identifies with the Beast and with Antichrist. As here all ten horns take part with the Beast in executing judgement upon the whore, the correspondence cannot be exact, not to mention that in Daniel 7:24 the Little Horn seems to be the successor of the Ten Horns, as here the Beast is the successor of the Seven Heads. It is therefore not impossible that here the Horns betoken the extension rather than the partition of the empire: ten new kings arise and join themselves to the Beast.

Many foreign interpreters explain this of the provincial governors who receive power as kings as soon as they throw off their allegiance to the Seventh Head and give the kingdom to the Beast on his return from the abyss. Apart from other considerations it is impossible to say which of the provincial governors are meant, and difficult to suppose that even a false prophet could employ such a figure without knowing what he meant by it. M. Renan’s theory (L’Antéchrist, pp. 433, 434), that the ten horns are the claimants of the Empire who appeared in the “long year” (Tac. Dial. 17) after the death of Nero, is less objectionable. It is possible to enumerate ten of these, but unfortunately not without including both Galba and Vespasian, one of whom must be reckoned among the heads, and therefore cannot be reckoned among the horns. Else, both Rome and the Roman Empire were so severely shaken in the civil wars between the rival emperors, and their actual fall in the fifth century was so nearly anticipated, that this interpretation harmonises well enough with Revelation 17:16. On the other hand, it fails to give meaning to Revelation 17:13, or to agree with the most probable meaning of the same symbol in Daniel.

οἵτινες. The pronoun introduces the explanation why they are symbolised by horns, not heads.

ἐξουσίαν ὡς βασιλεῖς. It is extraordinary that St Hippolytus (On Christ and Antichrist, ch. 27) inferred, apparently not from this passage, but from Daniel 2:42, that the ten powers of the last days, among which the Roman empire is partitioned, will pass from monarchies into democracies. Few things were humanly speaking less likely in his days, few more so in ours.

μίαν ὥραν λαμβάνουσιν μετὰ τοῦ θηρίου. Their dominion is for the same short term as that of the Beast: the end will be very near when the ten horns appear in their final and unmistakeable shape. If the correspondence between Daniel and this chapter be as exact as interpreters who attempt to identify the horns suppose, this only makes their inconsistency the greater.

Verse 13

13. οὗτοιδιδόασιν. The order in this clause and in the next corresponds to that of ordinary Greek more nearly than in Revelation 14:4, where the structure is similar: for the sense cf. Revelation 16:14, Revelation 19:19-20.

Verse 14

14. See the same passages.

κύριος κυρίωνκαὶ βασιλεὺς βασιλέων. Revelation 19:16; Daniel 2:47.

οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ. Revelation 19:14.

κλητοὶ καὶ ἐκλεκτοὶ καὶ πιστοί. All common titles of Christians applied even to the imperfect Churches on earth.

Verse 15

15. τὰ ὕδατα ἃ εἶδες. Some compare Isaiah 8:7 for the use of waters as an emblem of multitudes. It is noteworthy that when the vision is described Revelation 17:3-8 the waters are not mentioned.

ὄχλοι. Everywhere else we have φυλαί.

Verse 16

16. καὶ τὸ θηρίον. He (in his personal advent) and they will act together against Babylon as well as the Lamb.

μισήσουσιν τὴν πόρνην. If the interpreters who include the horns among the kings of the earth are right, she had been the object of their unchaste love, and will be of their passionate regret, Revelation 18:9. Nero’s treatment of his mistress or wife Poppaea cannot be alluded to, but is a good illustration of the image, and vindication of its consistency with vicious human nature.

γυμνήν. Cf. Isaiah 47:2-3; Ezekiel 16:37-39.

τὰς σάρκας αὐτῆς φάγονται, καὶ αὐτὴν κατακαύσουσιν ἐν πυρί. Cf. Micah 3:2; Genesis 38:24; Judges 15:6; i.e. shall plunder and burn Rome. The threat was symbolised and almost fulfilled in the burning of the Capitol by the partisans of Vitellius, and the storming of Rome by those of Vespasian: it received a more complete fulfilment in the repeated disasters of the fifth century. The sack of Rome by Constable Bourbon and the Germans was a less striking fulfilment: but the real and final one is no doubt still to come.

We should naturally understand from these words, that the judgement on Babylon described in the next chapter will be executed by the “kings of the earth,” the ten States among which the Roman Empire is partitioned. But it is almost as remarkable as the view of Hippolytus noted on Revelation 17:12, that St Benedict is recorded (S. Greg. Dial. II. 15) to have said, “Rome will not be destroyed by the nations, but be overthrown by thunderstorms, whirlwinds and earthquakes.” We know what he did not, that Rome stands, like Pompeii, on volcanic soil, within a few miles of volcanoes that, though not active now, were so to the verge of historical times, and may be again. This book does not tell us positively how Babylon will fall, and no one has the right to pretend to say: but it is at least suggestive to know that it might fall by a convulsion which unbelievers would think quite “natural,” while believers would see its place in the scheme of providence.

Verse 17

17. ὁ γὰρ θεός. The very same judicial blindness is spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

ποιῆσαι μίαν γνώμην. Cf. Revelation 17:13.

δοῦναι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτῶν τῷ θηρίῳ. He therefore, though a representative of the Roman Empire, will not fall with the city of Rome: on the contrary, in the last days of the latter he will have appeared as its enemy. The gradual divorce of the Empire from the City, by Diocletian, Constantine, Charlemagne, the mediæval German Emperors, Charles V., Francis II., Napoleon, William, is significant as providing precedents for what Antichrist will do: though of course it would be absurd and unjust to think of all these as actuated by his spirit.

Verse 18

18. ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη. Again as in Revelation 17:9 the designation of Rome is unmistakeable. The words cannot be glossed, “Babylon is (now represented by) Rome,” but must mean “Babylon is Rome.”


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Revelation 17:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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