Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1


Verse Revelation 17:1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters — That idolatrous worship is frequently represented in Scripture under the character of a whore or whoredom, is evident from numerous passages which it is unnecessary to quote. See 1 Chronicles 5:25; Ezekiel 16:1-63; Ezekiel 23:1-49, &c. The woman mentioned here is called a great whore, to denote her excessive depravity, and the artful nature of her idolatry. She is also represented as sitting upon many waters, to show the vast extent of her influence. Revelation 17:13.

Verse 2

Verse Revelation 17:2. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. — What an awful picture this is of the state of the religion of the world in subjection to this whore! Kings have committed spiritual fornication with her, and their subjects have drunk deep, dreadfully deep, into the doctrine of her abominable errors.

Verse 3

Verse Revelation 17:3. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness — This wilderness into which the apostle was carried is the desolate state of the true Church of Christ, in one of the wings of the once mighty Roman empire. It was a truly awful sight, a terrible desert, a waste howling wilderness; for when he came hither he:-

Saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.] No doubt can now be entertained that this woman is the Latin Church, for she sits upon the beast with seven heads and ten horns, which has been already proved to be the Latin empire, because this empire alone contains the number 666. Revelation 13:18. This is a representation of the Latin Church in her highest state of antichristian prosperity, for she SITS UPON the scarlet coloured beast, a striking emblem of her complete domination over the secular Latin empire. The state of the Latin Church from the commencement of the fourteenth century to the time of the Reformation may be considered that which corresponds to this prophetic description in the most literal and extensive sense of the words; for during this period she was at her highest pitch of worldly grandeur and temporal authority. The beast is full of names of blasphemy; and it is well known that the nations, in support of the Latin or Romish Church, have abounded in blasphemous appellations, and have not blushed to attribute to themselves and to their Church the most sacred titles, not only blaspheming by the improper use of sacred names, but even by applying to its bishop those names which alone belong to God; for God hath expressly declared that he will not give his glory to another, neither his praise to graven images.

Verse 4

Verse Revelation 17:4. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication — This strikingly represents the most pompous and costly manner in which the Latin Church has held forth to the nations the rites and ceremonies of its idolatrous and corrupt worship.

Verse 5

Verse Revelation 17:5. And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots, and Abominations of the Earth.] This inscription being written upon her forehead is intended to show that she is not ashamed of her doctrines, but publicly professes and glories in them before the nations: she has indeed a whore's forehead, she has refused to be ashamed. The inscription upon her forehead is exactly the portraiture of the Latin Church. This Church is, as Bishop Newton well expresses it, A MYSTERY of iniquity. This woman is also called Babylon the Great; she is the exact antitype of the ancient Babylon in her idolatry and cruelty, but the ancient city called Babylon is only a drawing of her in miniature. This is indeed Babylon THE GREAT. "She affects the style and title of our HOLY MOTHER, the CHURCH; but she is, in truth, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."

Verse 6

Verse Revelation 17:6. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.] How exactly the cruelties exercised by the Latin Church against all it has denominated heretics correspond with this description, the reader need not be informed.

Verse 7

Verse Revelation 17:7. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel! I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carried her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.] The apostle was greatly astonished, as well he might be, at the woman's being drunk with the blood of the saints, when the beast which carried her abounded with sacred appellations, such as holy, most holy, most Christian, sacred, most sacred. The angel undertakes to explain to St. John the vision which had excited in him so great astonishment; and the explication is of such great importance, that, had it not been given, the mystery of the dragon and the beast could never have been satisfactorily explained in all its particulars. The angel begins with saying:-

Verse 8

Verse Revelation 17:8. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition — The beast is the Latin kingdom; (ηλατινηβασιλεια;) consequently the beast was, that is, was in existence previously to the time of St. John; (for Latinus was the first king of the Latins, and Numitor the last;) is not now, because the Latin nation has ceased long ago to be an independent power, and is now under the dominion of the Romans; but shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, that is, the Latin kingdom, the antichristian power, or that which ascendeth out of the abyss or bottomless pit, is yet in futurity. But it is added:-

And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names there not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. — By the earth is here meant the Latin world; therefore the meaning is, that all who dwell in the Latin world shall adhere to the idolatrous and blasphemous religion of the Latin Church, which is supported by the Latin empire, except those who abide by the sacred Scriptures, receiving them as the only rule of faith and practice. These believe in the true Sacrifice, and keep themselves unspotted from the corruption that is in the world. But the inhabitants of the Latin world, under the dominion of the Romish religion, shall wonder when they behold the beast, or Latin empire; that is, as Lord Napier remarks, "shall have in great admiration, reverence, and estimation, this great monarchie." They shall wonder at it, by considering it the most sacred empire in the world, that in which God peculiarly delights; but those that so wonder have not their names written in the book of life, but are such as prefer councils to Divine revelation, and take their religion from missals, rituals, and legends, instead of the sacred oracles: hence they are corrupt and idolatrous, and no idolater hath inheritance in the kingdom of God. In the preceding part of the verse the beast is considered in three states, as that which was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit; here a fourth is introduced, and yet is. This is added to show that, though the Latins were subjugated by the Romans, nevertheless the Romans themselves were Latins; for Romulus the founder of their monarchy, was a Latin; consequently that denominated in St. John's days the Roman empire was, in reality, the Latin kingdom; for the very language of the empire was the Latin, and the Greek writers, who lived in the time of the Roman empire, expressly tell us that those formerly called Latins are now named Romans. The meaning of the whole verse is therefore as follows: The corrupt part of mankind shall have in great admiration the Latin empire yet in futurity, which has already been, but is now extinct, the Romans having conquered it; and yet is still in being; for, though the Latin nation has been subjugated, its conquerors are themselves Latins. But it may be objected against the interpretation here given, that these phrases are spoken of the beast upon which the apostle saw the woman, or Latin Church, sit; for the angel says, The beast that THOU SAWEST was, and is not, c. what reference, therefore, can the Latin empire, which supports the Latin Church, have to the Latin kingdom which subsisted before St. John's time, or to the Roman empire which might properly be so denominated! This objection has very great weight at first sight, and cannot be answered satisfactorily till the angel's explanation of the heads and horns of the beast have been examined; therefore it is added:-

Verse 9

Verse Revelation 17:9. Here is the mind which hath wisdom. — It was said before, Revelation 13:18, Here is wisdom. Let him that hath A MIND, or understanding, (νουν,) count the number of the beast. Wisdom, therefore, here means a correct view of what is intended by the number 666; consequently the parallel passage, Here is THE MIND which hath WISDOM, is a declaration that the number of the beast must first be understood, before the angel's interpretation of the vision concerning the whore and the beast can admit of a satisfactory explanation.

The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. — This verse has been almost universally considered to allude to the seven hills upon which Rome originally stood. But it has been objected that modern Rome is not thus situated, and that, consequently, pagan Rome is intended in the prophecy. This is certainly a very formidable objection against the generally received opinion among Protestants, that papal Rome is the city meant by the woman sitting upon seven mountains. It has been already shown that the woman here mentioned is an emblem of the Latin Church in her highest state of antichristian prosperity; and therefore the city of Rome, seated upon seven mountains, is not at all designed in the prophecy. In order to understand this scripture aright, the word mountains must be taken in a figurative and not a literal sense, as in Revelation 6:14; Revelation 16:20. See also Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 2:14; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35, c. in which it is unequivocally the emblem of great and mighty power. The mountains upon which the woman sitteth must be, therefore, seven great powers; and as the mountains are heads of the beast, they must be the seven GREATEST eminences of the Latin world. As no other power was acknowledged at the head of the Latin empire but that of Germany, how can it be said that the beast has seven heads? This question can only be solved by the feudal constitution of the late Germanic league, the history of which is briefly as follows: At first kings alone granted fiefs. They granted them to laymen only, and to such only who were free; and the vassal had no power to alienate them. Every freeman, and particularly the feudal tenants, were subject to the obligation of military duty, and appointed to guard their sovereign's life, member, mind, and right honour. Soon after, or perhaps a little before, the extinction of the Carlovingian dynasty in France, by the accession of the Capetian line, and in Germany by the accession of the house of Saxony, fiefs, which had been entirely at the disposal of the sovereign, became hereditary. Even the offices of duke, count, margrave, c., were transmitted in the course of hereditary descent and not long after, the right of primogeniture was universally established. The crown vassals usurped the sovereign property of the land, with civil and military authority over the inhabitants. The possession thus usurped they granted out to their immediate tenants; and these granted them over to others in like manner. Thus the principal vassals gradually obtained every royal prerogative; they promulgated laws, exercised the power of life and death, coined money, fixed the standard of weights and measures, granted safeguards, entertained a military force, and imposed taxes, with every right supposed to be annexed to royalty. In their titles they styled themselves dukes, c., Dei gratis, by the grace of God a prerogative avowedly confined to sovereign power. It was even admitted that, if the king refused to do the lord justice, the lord might make war upon him. The tenants, in their turn, made themselves independent of their vassal lords, by which was introduced an ulterior state of vassalage. The king was called the sovereign lord, his immediate vassal was called the suzereign, and the tenants holding of him were called the arrere vassals. See Butler's Revolutions of the Germanic Empire, pp. 54-66. Thus the power of the emperors of Germany, which was so very considerable in the ninth century, was gradually diminished by the means of the feudal system; and during the anarchy of the long interregnum, occasioned by the interference of the popes in the election of the emperors, (from 1256 to 1273,) the imperial power was reduced almost to nothing. Rudolph of Hapsburg, the founder of the house of Austria, was at length elected emperor, because his territories and influence were so inconsiderable as to excite no jealously in the German princes, who were willing to preserve the forms of constitution, the power and vigour of which they had destroyed. See Robertson's Introduction to his History of Charles V. Before the dissolution of the empire in 1806, Germany "presented a complex association of principalities more or less powerful, and more or less connected with a nominal sovereignty in the emperor, as its supreme feudal chief." "There were about three hundred princes of the empire, each sovereign in his own country, who might enter into alliances, and pursue by all political measures his own private interest, as other sovereigns do; for if even an imperial war were declared he might remain neuter, if the safety of the empire were not at stake. Here then was an empire of a construction, without exception, the most singular and intricate that ever appeared in the world; for the emperor was only the chief of the Germanic confederation." Germany was, therefore, speaking in the figurative language of Scripture, a country abounding in hills, or containing an immense number of distinct principalities. But the different German states (as has been before observed) did not each possess an equal share of power and influence; some were more eminent than others. Among them were also a few which might, with the greatest propriety, be denominated mountains, or states possessing a very high degree of political importance. But the seven mountains on which the woman sits must have their elevations above all the other eminences in the whole Latin world; consequently, they can be no other than the SEVEN ELECTORATES of the German empire. These were, indeed, mountains of vast eminence; for in their sovereigns was vested the sole poorer of electing the head of the empire. But this was not all; for besides the power of electing an emperor, the electors had a right to capitulate with the new head of the empire, to dictate the conditions on which he was to reign, and to depose him if he broke those conditions. They actually deposed Adolphus of Nassau in 1298, and Wenceslaus in 1400. They were sovereign and independent princes in their respective dominions, had the privilegium de non appellando illimitatum, that of making war, coining, and exercising every act of sovereignty; they formed a separate college in the diet of the empire, and had among themselves a particular covenant or league called Kur verein; they had precedence of all the other princes of the empire, and even ranked with kings. The heads of the beast understood in this way, is one of the finest emblems of the German constitution which can possibly be conceived; for as the Roman empire of Germany had the precedence of all the other monarchies of which the Latin empire was composed, the seven mountains very fitly denote the seven PRINCIPAL powers of what has been named the holy Roman empire. And also, as each electorate, by virtue of its union with the Germanic body, was more powerful than any other Roman Catholic state of Europe not so united; so was each electorate, in the most proper sense of the word, one of the highest elevations in the Latin world. The time when the seven electorates of the empire were first instituted is very uncertain. The most probable opinion appears to be that which places their origin some time in the thirteenth century. The uncertainty, however, in this respect, does not in the least weaken the evidence of the mountains being the seven electorates, but rather confirms it; for, as we have already observed, the representation of the woman sitting upon the beast is a figure of the Latin Church in the period of her greatest authority, spiritual and temporal; this we know did not take place before the commencement of the fourteenth century, a period subsequent to the institution of the seven electorates. Therefore the woman sits upon the seven mountains, or the German empire in its elective aristocratical state; she is said to sit upon them, to denote that she has the whole German empire under her direction and authority, and also that it is her chief support and strength. Supported by Germany, she is under no apprehension of being successfully opposed by any other power: she sits upon the seven mountains, therefore she is higher than the seven highest eminences of the Latin world; she must therefore have the secular Latin empire under her complete subjection. But this state of eminence did not continue above two or three centuries; the visible declension of the papal power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, occasioned partly by the removal of the papal see from Rome to Avignon, and more particularly by the great schism from 1377 to 1417, though considered one of the remote causes of the Reformation, was at first the means of merely transferring the supreme power from the pope to a general council, while the dominion of the Latin Church remained much the same. At the council of Constance, March 30, 1415, it was decreed "that the synod being lawfully assembled in the name of the Holy Ghost, which constituted the general council, and represented the whole Catholic Church militant, had its power immediately from Jesus Christ; and that every person, of whatsoever state or dignity, EVEN THE POPE HIMSELF is obliged to obey it in what concerns the faith, the extirpation of schism, and the general reformation of the Church in its head and members." The council of Basil of 1432 decreed "that every one of whatever dignity or condition, NOT EXCEPTING THE POPE HIMSELF, who shall refuse to obey the ordinances and decrees of this general council, or any other, shall be put under penance, and punished. It is also declared that the pope has no power to dissolve the general council without the consent and decree of the assembly." See the third tome of Du Pin's Ecclesiastical History. But what gave the death blow to the temporal sovereignty of the Latin Church was the light of the glorious reformation which first broke out in Germany in 1517, and in a very few years gained its way, not only over several of the great principalities in Germany, but was also made the established religion of other popish countries. Consequently, in the sixteenth century, the woman no longer sat upon the seven mountains, the electorates not only having refused to be ruled by her, but some of them having also despised and abandoned her doctrines. The changes, therefore, which were made in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, in the number of the electorates, will not affect in the least the interpretation of the seven mountains already given. The seven electors were the archbishops of Mentz, Cologne, and Triers, the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the marquis of Brandenburgh, and the king of Bohemia. But the heads of the beast have a double signification; for the angel says:-

Verse 10

Verse Revelation 17:10. And there are seven kings — καιβασιλειςεπταεισιν They are also seven kings. Before, it was said, they are seven mountains; here, they are also seven kings, which is a demonstration that kingdoms are not here meant by mountains: and this is a farther argument that the seven electorates are represented by seven mountains, for though the sovereigns of these states ranked with kings, they were not kings: that is to say, they were not absolute and sole lords of the territories they possessed, independently of the emperor, for their states formed a part of the Germanic body. But the seven heads of the beast are also seven kings, that is to say, the Latin empire has had seven supreme forms of government; for king is used in the prophetical writings for any supreme governor of a state or people, as is evident from Deuteronomy 33:5, where Moses is called a king. Of these seven kings, or supreme forms of Latin government, the angel informs St. John:-

Five are fallen, and one is — It is well known that the first form of Latin government was that of kings, which continued after the death of Latinus 428 years, till the building of Rome, B.C. 753. After Numitor's decease the Albans or Latins instituted the form of a republic, and were governed by dictators. We have only the names of two, viz., Cluilius and Metius Fufetius or Suffetius; but as the dictatorship continued at least eighty-eight years, there might have been others, though their names and actions are unknown. In the year before Christ 665 Alba, the metropolis of the Latin nation, was destroyed by Tullus Hostilius, the third king of the Romans, and the inhabitants carried to Rome. This put an end to the monarchical republic of the Latins; and the Latins elected two annual magistrates, whom Licinius calls dictators, but who are called praetors by other writers. This form of government continued till the time of P. Decius Mus, the Roman consul; for Festus, in his fourteenth book, informs us "that the Albans enjoyed prosperity till the time of King Tullus; but that, Alba being then destroyed, the consuls, till the time of P. Decius Mus, held a consultation with the Latins at the head of Ferentina, and the empire was governed by the council of both nations." The Latin nation was entirely subjugated by the Romans B.C. 336, which put an end to the government by praetors, after it had continued upwards of three hundred years. The Latins from this time ceased to be a nation, as it respects the name; therefore the three forms of government already mentioned were those which the Latins had during that period which the angel speaks of, when he says, The beast which thou sawest WAS. But as five heads, or forms of government, had fallen before St. John's time, it is evident that the two other forms of government which had fallen must be among those of the Romans; first, because though the Latin nation so called, was deprived of all authority by the Romans, yet the Latin power continued to exist, for the very conquerors of the Latin nation were Latins; and, consequently the Latins, though a conquered people, continued to have a LATIN government. Secondly, the angel expressly says, when speaking to St. John, that one is, that is, the sixth head, or Latin form of government, was then in existence; which could be no other than the imperial power, this being the only independent form of Latin government in the apostolic age. It therefore necessarily follows, that the Roman forms of government by which Latium was ruled must be the remaining heads of the beast. Before the subjugation of the Latins by the Romans four of the Roman or draconic forms of government had fallen, the regal power, the dictatorship, the decemvirate, and the consular power of the military tribunes, the last of which was abolished about 366 years before the commencement of the Christian era; none of these, therefore, ruled over the WHOLE Latin nation. But as the Latins were finally subdued about 336 B.C., the consular government of the Romans, which was then the supreme power in the state, must be the fourth head of the beast. This form of government continued, with very little interruption, till the rising up of the triumvirate, the fifth head of the beast, B.C. 43. The dictatorship of Sylla and Julius Caesar could not be considered a new head of the beast, as the Latins had already been ruled by it in the persons of Cluilius and Fufetius. The sixth head of the beast, or that which existed in the time of St. John, was consequently, as we have already proved, the imperial power of the heathen Caesars, or the seventh draconic form of government.

And the other is not yet come — Bishop Newton considers the Roman dutchy, under the eastern emperor's lieutenant, the exarch of Ravenna, the seventh head of the beast. But this cannot be the form of government signified by the seventh head, for a head of the beast as we have already shown, is a supreme, independent form of Latin government; consequently the Roman dutchy cannot be the seventh head, as it was dependent upon the exarchate of Ravenna; and the exarchate cannot be the head, as it was itself in subjection to the Greek empire. The Rev. G. Faber has ascertained the truth exactly in denominating the Carlovingian patriciate the seventh head of the beast. That this was a supreme, independent form of government, is evident from history. Gibbon, in speaking of the patriciate, observes that "the decrees of the senate and people successively invested Charles Martel and his posterity with the honours of patrician of Rome. The leaders of a powerful nation would have disdained a servile title and subordinate office; but the reign of the Greek emperors was suspended, and in the vacancy of the empire they derived a more glorious commission from the pope and the republic. The Roman ambassadors presented these patricians with the keys of the shrine of St. Peter as a pledge and symbol of sovereignty, and with a holy banner, which it was their right and duty to unfurl in defense of the Church and city. In the time of Charles Martel and of Pepin, the interposition of the Lombard kingdom covered the freedom, while it threatened the safety of Rome; and the patriciate represented only the title, the service, the alliance, of these distant protectors. The power and policy of Charlemagne annihilated an enemy, and imposed a master. In his first visit to the capital he was received with all the honours which had formerly been paid to the exarch, the representative of the emperor; and these honours obtained some new decorations from the joy and gratitude of Pope Adrian I. In the portico Adrian expected him at the head of his clergy; they embraced as friends and equals; but in their march to the altar, the king, or patrician, assumed the right hand of the pope. Nor was the Frank content with these vain and empty demonstrations of respect. In the twenty-six years that elapsed between the conquest of Lombardy and his imperial coronation, Rome, which had been delivered by the sword, was subject, as his own, to the sceptre of Charlemagne. The people swore allegiance to his person and family, in his name money was coined and justice was administered, and the election of the popes was examined and confirmed by his authority. Except an original and self-inherent claim of sovereignty, there was not any prerogative remaining which the title of emperor could add to the patrician of Rome." The seven heads of the beast are therefore the following: The regal power, the dictatorship, the power of the praetors, the consulate, the triumvirate, the imperial power, and the patriciate.

And when he cometh, he must continue a short space. — The seventh form of government was only to remain a short time, which was actually the case; for from its first rise to independent power to its utter extinction, there passed only about forty-five years, a short time in comparison to the duration of several of the preceding forms of government; for the primitive regal government continued at least four hundred and twenty-eight years, the dictatorship was in power about eighty-eight years, the power of the praetors was in being for upwards of three hundred years, the consulate lasted about two hundred and eighty years, and the imperial power continued upwards of five hundred years.

Verse 11

Verse Revelation 17:11. And the beast, that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. — That is to say, the Latin kingdom that has already been, but is now no longer nominally in existence, shall immediately follow the dissolution of the seventh form of Latin government; and this dominion is called ογδοος, an eighth, because it succeeds to the seventh. Yet it is not an eighth head of the beast, because the beast has only seven heads; for to constitute a new head of the beast the form of government must not only differ in nature, but also in name. This head of the beast is, therefore, εκτωνεπτα, ONE of the seven. Consequently the form of government represented by this head is the restoration of one of the preceding seven. The restored head can be therefore no other than the regal state of the Latins, or in other words the Latin kingdom, (ηλατινη βασιλεια,) which followed the patriciate or seventh head of Latin government. But the beast in his eighth state, or under his first head restored, goeth into perdition. No other form of Latin government shall succeed; but the beast in his last or antichristian condition shall be taken together with the false prophet that wrought miracles in his sight, "and cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."

It is observable that the eighth Latin power is called by the angel the beast, and also one of his heads. This apparent discordance arises from the double signification of the heads, for if we take the beast upon which the woman sits to be merely a representation of that secular power which supports the Latin Church, then the seven heads will represent the seven electorates of the Germanic empire; but if by the beast we understand the general Latin empire from first to last, then what is, according to the angel's first interpretation of the heads, called the beast, is in this case only one of his heads. Revelation 17:18.

Verse 12

Verse Revelation 17:12. And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. — The meaning of horns has already been defined when speaking of those of the dragon. The meaning is therefore as follows: Though the Latin empire be now in existence, the ten horns refer to ten Latin kingdoms yet in futurity, and consequently they have received no dominion AS YET; for that part of the Latin domination now in power is the sixth head, or imperial government of the heathen Caesars. But the ten states of the Latins receive dominion as monarchies μιανωραν, one time, (as it may be properly translated,) i.e., at the same time with the beast, or that which ascendeth out of the bottomless pit; consequently, the Latin empire here intended is the one which was in futurity in the apostolic age.

Verse 13

Verse Revelation 17:13. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.] Therefore the ten horns must constitute the principal strength of the Latin empire; that is to say, this empire is to be composed of the dominions of ten monarchs independent of each other in every other sense except in their implicit obedience to the Latin Church. The beast in this and the preceding verse is distinguished from its horns, as the WHOLE Latin empire is distinguished in history from its constituent powers. Revelation 17:16.

Verse 14

Verse Revelation 17:14. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and, faithful.] The ten powers of the beast must compose the secular kingdom of antichrist, for they make war with the Lamb, who is Christ Jesus. This is perfectly true of all popish states, for they have constantly opposed, as long as they have had any secular power, the progress of pure Christianity. They make war with the Lamb by persecuting his followers; but the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is the Lord of lords, and King of kings-all lords have their authority from him, and no king can reign without him; therefore the ten Latin kings are God's ministers to execute his vengeance upon the idolatrous nations. But when these antichristian monarchies have executed the Divine purpose, those that are with the Lamb-the called, the chosen, and the faithful, those who have kept THE TRUTH in the love of it, shall prevail against all their adversaries, because their battles are fought by the Lamb, who is their God and Deliverer. See Revelation 19:19; Revelation 19:20.

Verse 15

Verse Revelation 17:15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. — "So many words," Bishop Newton observes, "in the plural number, fitly denote the great extensiveness of her power and jurisdiction. She herself glories in the title of the Catholic Church, and exults in the number of her votaries as a certain proof of the true religion. Cardinal Bellarmin's first note of the true Church is, the very name of the Catholic Church; and his fourth note is, amplitude, or multitude, and variety of believers; for the truly Catholic Church, says he, ought not only to comprehend all ages, but likewise all places, all nations, all kinds of men."

Verse 16

Verse Revelation 17:16. And the ten horns which thou sowest 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.] Here is a clue to lead us to the right interpretation of the horns of the beast. It is said the TEN horns shall hate the whore; by which is evidently meant, when connected with what follows, that the whole of the ten kingdoms in the interest of the Latin Church shall finally despise her doctrines, be reformed from popery, assist in depriving her of all influence and in exposing her follies, and in the end consign her to utter destruction. From this it follows that no Roman Catholic power which did not exist so late as the Reformation can be numbered among the horns of the beast; the horns must, therefore, be found among the great states of Europe at the commencement of the Reformation. These were exactly ten, viz., France, Spain, England, Scotland, The Empire, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and Portugal. In these were comprehended most of the minor states not styled monarchies, and which, from their first rise to the period of the Reformation, had been subdued by one or more of the ten grand Roman Catholic powers already named. Consequently, these ten constituted the power and strength of the beast; and each minor state is considered a part of that monarchy under the authority of which it was finally reduced previously to the Reformation.

But it may be asked, How could the empire, which was the revived head of the beast, have been at the same time one of its horns? The answer is as follows: Horns of an animal, in the language of prophecy, represent the powers of which that empire or kingdom symbolized by the animal is composed. Thus the angel, in his interpretation of Daniel's vision of the ram and he-goat expressly informs us that "the ram with two horns are the kings of Media and Persia." One of the horns of the ram, therefore, represented the kingdom of Media, and the other the kingdom of Persia; and their union in one animal denoted the united kingdom of Media and Persia, viz., the Medo-Persian empire. In like manner the beast with ten horns denotes that the empire represented by the beast is composed of ten distinct powers, and the ten horns being united in one beast very appropriately show that the monarchies symbolized by these horns are united together to form one empire; for we have already shown, in Clarke's notes on "Revelation 13:1", that a beast is the symbol of an empire. Therefore, as the horns of an animal, agreeably to the angel's explanation, (and we can have no higher authority,) represent all the powers of which that domination symbolized by the animal is composed, the Roman empire of Germany, as one of those monarchies which gave their power and strength to the Latin empire, must consequently have been A HORN of the beast. But the Germanic empire was not only a LATIN power, but at the same time was acknowledged by all Europe to have precedency of all the others. Therefore, as it is not possible to express these two circumstances by one symbol, it necessarily follows, from the nature of symbolical language, that what has been named the holy Roman empire must have a double representation. Hence the empire, as one of the powers of the Latin monarchy, was a horn of the beast, and in having precedency of all the others was its revived head. See a similar explanation of the tail of the dragon in Clarke's notes on "Revelation 12:4".

Verse 17

Verse Revelation 17:17. 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.] Let no one imagine that these ten Latin kingdoms, because they support an idolatrous worship, have been raised up merely by the power of man or the chances of war. No kingdom or state can exist without the will of God; therefore let the inhabitants of the world tremble when they see a wicked monarchy rise to power, and let them consider that it is raised up by the Lord to execute his vengeance upon the idolatries and profligacies of the times. It is said of the kings in communion with the Church of Rome, that God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will. How is this Divine will accomplished? In the most awful and afflictive manner! In causing ten Latin kings to unite their dominions into one mighty empire for the defence of the Latin Church. Here is a dreadful dispensation of Jehovah; but it is such as the nations have most righteously deserved, because when they had the truth they lived not according to its most holy requisitions, but loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Therefore hath "the Lord sent them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they might all be damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness." But this deplorable state of the world is not perpetual, it can only continue till every word of God is fulfilled upon his enemies; and when this time arrives, (which will be that of Christ's second advent,) then shall the Son of God slay that wicked "with the spirit of his mouth, and shall consume him with the brightness of HIS COMING."

Verse 18

Verse Revelation 17:18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.] It has already been shown that the woman sitting upon the seven-headed beast is a representation of the Latin Church; here we have the greatest assurance that it is so, because the woman is called a city, which is a much plainer emblem of a Church, as the word is used unequivocally in this sense in so many parts of Scripture that we cannot well mistake its meaning. See Revelation 3:12; Revelation 11:2; Revelation 21:10; Revelation 22:19; and also Psalms 46:4; Psalms 87:3; Hebrews 12:22, c. The woman therefore must be the Latin Church and as the apostle saw her sitting upon the beast, this must signify that ηεχουσα βασιλειαν, she hath A KINGDOM over the kings of the earth, i.e., over the kings of the Latin world, for that this is the meaning of earth has been shown before in numerous instances. That KINGDOM which the woman has over the kings of the Latin world, or secular Latin empire, or in other words THE KINGDOM of the Latin Church, is the numbered Latin kingdom or Romish hierarchy. Revelation 13:18. The woman is also called a GREAT city, to denote the very great extent of her jurisdiction; for she has comprehended within her walls the subjects of the mighty dominations of France, Spain, England, Scotland, The Empire, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and Portugal. What an extensive city was this! Surely such as to justify the prophetic denomination, that GREAT city.

HAVING now gone through the whole of the angel's interpretation of St. John's vision of a whore sitting upon the seven-headed and ten-horned beast, it will be essentially necessary to examine a little more attentively the eighth verse of this chapter. Revelation 17:8 It has already been shown that the phrases, was, is not, shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and yet is, refer to the Latin kingdom which existed before the building of Rome, to the Roman empire in the time of St. John, and to the Latin empire which was in futurity in the apostolic age. But as the words was, is not, c., are spoken of the beast upon which the apostle saw the woman, or Latin Church, sit how can it be said of this beast that it had an existence before the date of the Apocalypse, when the woman whom it carried was not in being till long after this period? And what connection has the Latin empire of the middle ages with that which derived its name from Latinus, king of the Aborigines, and was subjugated by the ancient Romans; or even with that which existed in the time of the apostle? The answer is as follows: St. John saw the beast upon which the woman sat with all his seven heads and ten horns. Consequently, as the angel expressly says that five of these seven heads had already fallen in the time of the vision, it therefore necessarily follows that the apostle must have seen that part of the Latin empire represented by the seven-headed beast which had already been under the emblem of five heads. Therefore the woman sat upon the beast that WAS. But it is plain from the angel's interpretation that the whole of the seven heads fell, before the beast upon which the woman sat arose; and yet the woman is represented as sitting upon the seven-headed beast to denote, as we have before observed, that it is the Latin kingdom in its last estate, or under one of its heads restored, which is the secular kingdom of antichrist. The beast is also said not to have any existence in the time of the vision; from which it is evident that the monarchy of the Latins, and not that of the Romans, is here intended; because the latter was in the time of the vision. Again, the beast which St. John saw had not ascended out of the bottomless pit in his time; consequently the whole seven heads and ten horns were in futurity, for all these heads and horns rose up out of the abyss at the same time with the beast. How is this apparent contradiction reconciled? In the most plain and satisfactory manner, by means of the angel's double interpretation of the heads; for if the seven heads be taken in the sense of seven mountains, (head in the Scripture style being a symbol of precedency as well as supremacy,) then the beast with all its heads and horns was altogether in futurity in the apostle's time, for the seven heads are the seven electorates of the German empire, and the ten horns the ten monarchies in the interest of the Latin Church. Finally, the beast is said to exist in the time of the vision; therefore the Roman empire, which governed the world, must be here alluded to; and consequently the phrase and yet is is a proof that, as the beast is the Latin kingdom, and this beast is said to have an existence in the time of the apostle, the empire of the Caesars, though generally known by the name of the Roman, is in a very proper sense the Latin kingdom, as the Latin was the language which prevailed in it. Hence the seven-headed and ten-horned beast is at once the representation of the ancient Latin power, of the Roman empire which succeeded it, and of the Latin empire which supports the Latin Church. Here is then the connection of the ancient Latin and Roman powers with that upon which the woman sits. She sits upon the beast that was and is not, because three of his heads represent the three forms of government which the ancient Latins had before they were subjugated by the Romans, viz., the regal power, the dictatorship, and the power of the praetors. She sits upon the beast which SHALL ASCEND out of the bottomless pit, because all his seven heads, taken in the sense of mountains were in futurity in the apostolic age. She sits upon the beast that yet is, because four of his heads represent four forms of government of the Roman or Latin empire now in existence, viz., the consulate, the triumvirate, the imperial power, and the patriciate. It is hence evident that the beast, in the largest acceptation of this term, is a symbol of the Latin power in general, from its commencement in Latinus to the end of time; his seven heads denoting seven kings or supreme forms of Latin government, during this period, king or kingdom, as we have already observed, being a general term in the prophetical writings for any kind of supreme governor or government, no matter by what particular name such may have been designated among men. Thus the Latin power from the time of Latinus to the death of Numitor was the beast under the dominion of his first head; from the death of Numitor to the destruction of Alba it was the beast under the dominion of his second head; from the destruction of Alba to the final subjugation of the Latins by the Romans the beast under the dominion of his third head. And as the four Roman forms of government which were subsequent to the final conquest of the Latins, were also Latin dominations, the Latin power under these forms of government was the beast under the dominion of his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh heads. The beast of the bottomless pit, which followed the fall of all the heads of the sea beast or general Latin empire, is, according to the angel's interpretation, ογδοος, (βασιλευς,) an EIGHTH king, i.e., an eighth species of Latin power, or, in other words, a supreme form of Latin government essentially differing from all the foregoing; yet, as it is nominally the same with one of the preceding seven, it is not accounted an eighth head of the beast. The first beast of Revelation 13:1 is a description of the eighth or last condition of the GENERAL Latin empire, and is said to arise εκτηςθαλασσης, out of the sea, because the heads are there taken in a double sense, sea being a general term to express the origin of every great empire which is raised up by the sword; but when (as in Revelation 17:11) one of the heads of the sea beast (viz., that secular power which is still in being, and has supported the Latin Church for more than a thousand years) is peculiarly styled The Beast, the Holy Ghost, speaking of this secular Latin empire exclusively, declares it to be εκ της αβυσσου, FROM the bottomless pit.


Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.