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Analysis Of The Chapter
This chapter Revelation 17:0 properly commences a more detailed description of the judgment inflicted on the formidable anti-Christian power referred to in the last chapter, though under a new image. It contains an account of the sequel of the pouring out of the last vial, and the description, in various forms, continues to the close of Revelation 19:0. The whole of this description Rev. 17–19 constitutes the last great catastrophe represented under the seventh vial Revelation 16:17-21, at the close of which the great enemy of God and the church will be destroyed, and the church will be triumphant, Revelation 19:17-21. The image in this chapter is that of a harlot, or abandoned woman, on whom severe judgment is brought for her sins. The action is here delayed, and this chapter has much the appearance of an explanatory episode, designed to give a more clear and definite idea of the character of that formidable anti-Christian power on which the judgment was to descend. The chapter, without any formal division, embraces the following points:
(1) Introduction, Revelation 17:1-3. One of the seven angels entrusted with the seven vials comes to John, saying that he would describe to him the judgment that was to come upon the great harlot with whom the kings of the earth had committed fornication, and who had made the dwellers upon the earth drunk by the wine of her fornication - that is, of that anti-Christian power so often referred to in this book, which by its influence had deluded the nations, and brought their rulers under its control.
(2) A particular description of this anti-Christian power represented as an abandoned and attractive female, in the usual attire of an harlot, Revelation 17:3-6. She is seated on a scarlet-colored beast, covered over with blasphemous names - a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She is arrayed in the usual gorgeous and alluring attire of an harlot, clothed in purple, decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, with a golden cup in her hand full of abomination and filthiness. She has on her forehead a name expressive of her character. She is represented as drunken with the blood of the saints, and is such as to attract attention and excite wonder.
(3) An explanation of what is meant by this scarlet-clothed woman, and of the design of the representation, Revelation 17:7-18. This comprises several parts:
(a) A promise of the angel that he would explain this, Revelation 17:7.
(b) An enigmatical or symbolical representation of the design of the vision, Revelation 17:8-14. This description consists of an account of the beast on which the woman sat, Revelation 17:8; of the seven hcads of the beast, as representing seven mountains, Revelation 17:9; of the succession of kings or dynasties represented, Revelation 17:9-11; of the ten horns as representing ten kings or kingdoms giving their power and strength to the beast, Revelation 17:12-13; and of the conflict or warfare of all these confederated or consolidated powers with the Lamb, and their discomfiture by him, Revelation 17:14.
(c) A more literal statement of what is meant by this, Revelation 17:15-18. The waters on which the harlot sat represent a multitude of people subject to her control, Revelation 17:15. The ten horns, or the ten kingdoms, on the beast, would ultimately hate the harlot, and destroy her, as if they should eat her flesh, and consume her with fire, Revelation 17:16. This would be done because God would put it into their hearts to fulfil his purposes, alike in giving their kingdom to the beast, and then turning against it to destroy it, Revelation 17:17. The woman referred to is at last declared to be the great city which reigned over the kings of the earth, Revelation 17:18. For particularity and definiteness, this is one of the most remarkable chapters in the book, and there can be no doubt that it was the design in it to give such an explanation of what was referred to in these visions, that there could be no mistake in applying the description. “All that remains between this and the twentieth chapter,” says Andrew Fuller, “would in modern publications be called notes of illustration. No new subject is introduced, but mere enlargement on what has already been announced” (Works, 6:205).
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials - See the notes on Revelation 15:1, Revelation 15:7. Reference is again made to these angels in the same manner in Revelation 21:9, where one of them says that he would show to John “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” No particular one is specified. The general idea seems to be, that to those seven angels was entrusted the execution of the last things, or the winding up of affairs introductory to the reign of God, and that the communications respecting those last events were properly made through them. It is clearly quite immaterial by which of these it is done. The expression “which had the seven vials,” would seem to imply that though they had emptied the vials in the manner stated in the previous chapter, they still retained them in their hands.
And talked with me - Spake to me. The word “talk” would imply a more protracted conversation than occurred here.
Come hither - Greek, δεῦρο deuro - “Here, hither.” This is a word merely calling the attention, as we should say now, “Here.” It does not imply that John was to leave the place where he was.
I will shew unto thee - Partly by symbols, and partly by express statements; for this is the way in which, in fact, he showed him.
The judgment - The condemnation and calamity that will come upon her.
Of the great whore - It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent a city under the image of a woman - a pure and holy city under the image of a virgin or chaste female; a corrupt, idolatrous, and wicked city under the image of an abandoned or lewd woman. See the notes on Isaiah 1:21; “How is the faithful city become an harlot!” Compare the notes on Isaiah 1:8. In Revelation 17:18, it is expressly said that “this woman is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth” - that is, as I suppose, papal Rome; and the design here is to represent it as resembling an abandoned female - fit representative of an apostate, corrupt, unfaithful church. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:21.
That sitteth upon many waters - An image drawn either from Babylon, situated on the Euphrates, and encompassed by the many artificial rivers which had been made to irrigate the country, or Rome, situated on the Tiber. In Revelation 17:15 these waters are said to represent the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues over which the government symbolized by the woman ruled. See the notes on that verse. Waters are often used to symbolize nations.
With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication - Spiritual adultery. The meaning is, that papal Rome, unfaithful to God, and idolatrous and corrupt, had seduced the rulers of the earth, and led them into the same kind of unfaithfulness, idolatry, and corruption. Compare Jeremiah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 4:2. How true this is in history need not be stated. All the princes and kings of Europe in the dark ages, and for many centuries were, and not a few of them are now, entirely under the influence of papal Rome.
And the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication - The alluring cup which, as an harlot, she had extended to them. See this image explained in the notes on Revelation 14:8. There it is said that Babylon - referring to the same thing - had “made them drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication”; that is, of the cup that led to wrath or punishment. Here it is said that the harlot had made them “drunk with the wine of her fornication”; that is, they had been, as it were, intoxicated by the alluring cup held out to them. What could better describe the influence of Rome on the people of the world, in making them, under these delusions, incapable of sober judgment, and in completely fascinating and controlling all their powers?
So he carried me away in the spirit - In vision. He seemed to himself to be thus carried away; or the scene which he is about to describe was made to pass before him as if he were present.
Into the wilderness - Into a desert. Compare the notes on Revelation 12:6. Why this scene is laid in a wilderness or desert is not mentioned. Prof. Stuart supposes that it is because it is “appropriate to symbolize the future condition of the beast.” So DeWette and Rosenmuller. The imagery is changed somewhat from the first appearance of the harlot in Revelation 17:1. There she is represented as “sitting upon many waters.” Now she is represented as “riding on a beast,” and of course the imagery is adapted to that. Possibly there may have been no intentional significancy in this; but on the supposition, as the interpretation has led us to believe all along, that this refers to papal Rome, may not the propriety of this be seen in the condition of Rome and the adjacent country, at the rise of the papal power? That had its rise (see the notes on Daniel 7:25 ff) after the decline of the Roman civil power, and properly in the time of Clovis, Pepin, or Charlemagne. Perhaps its first visible appearance, as a power that was to influence the destiny of the world, was in the time of Gregory the Great, 590-605 a.d. On the supposition that the passage before us refers to the period when the papal power became thus marked and defined, the state of Rome at this time, as described by Mr. Gibbon, would show with what propriety the term “wilderness” or “desert” might be then applied to it.
The following extract from this author, in describing the state of Rome at the accession of Gregory the Great, has almost the appearance of being a designed commentary on this passage, or is, at anyrate, such as a partial interpreter of this book would desire and expect to find. Speaking of that period, he says (Decline and Fall, 3:207-211): “Rome had reached, about the close of the sixth century, the lowest period of her depression. By the removal of the seat of empire, and the successive loss of the provinces, the sources of public and private opulence were exhausted; the lofty tree under whose shade the nations of the earth had reposed was deprived of its leaves and branches, and the sapless trunk was left to wither on the ground. The ministers of command and the messengers of victory no longer met on the Appian or Flaminian Way; and the hostile approach of the Lombards was often felt and continually feared. The inhabitants of a potent and peaceful capital, who visit without an anxious thought the garden of the adjacent country, will faintly picture in their fancy the distress of the Romans; they shut or opened their gates with a trembling hand, beheld from the walls the flames of their houses, and heard the lamentations of their brethren who were coupled together like dogs, and dragged away into distant slavery beyond the sea and the mountains.
Such incessant alarms must annihilate the pleasures, and interrupt the labors of a rural life; and the Campagna of Rome was speedily reduced to the stale of a dreary wilderness, in which the land is barren, the waters are impure, and the air is infectious. Curiosity and ambition no longer attracted the nations to the capital of the world; but if chance or necessity directed the steps of a wandering stranger, he contemplated with horror the vacancy and solitude of the city; and might be tempted to ask, Where is the Senate, and where are the people? In a season of excessive rains, the Tiber swelled above its banks, and rushed with irresistible violence into the valleys of the seven hills. A pestilential disease arose from the stagnation of the deluge, and so rapid was the contagion that fourscore persons expired in an hour in the midst of a solemn procession which implored the mercy of Heaven. A society in which marriage is encouraged, and industry prevails, soon repairs the accidental losses of pestilence and war; but as the far greater part of the Romans was condemned to hopeless indigence and celibacy, the depopulation was constant and visible, and the gloomy enthusiasts might expect the approaching failure of the human race. Yet the number of citizens still exceeded the measure of subsistence; their precarious food was supplied from the harvests of Sicily or Egypt; and the frequent repetition of famine betrays the inattention of the emperor to a distant province. The edifices of Rome were exposed to the same ruin and decay; the mouldering fabrics were easily overthrown by inundations, tempests, and earthquakes; and the monks who had occupied the most advantageous stations exulted in their base triumph over the ruins of antiquity.
“Like Thebes, or Babylon, or Carthage, the name of Rome might have been erased from the earth, if the city had not been animated by a vital principle which again restored her to honor and dominion. The power as well as the virtue of the apostles resided with living energy in the breast of their successors; and the chair of Peter, under the reign of Maurice, was occupied by the first and greatest of the name of Gregory. The sword of the enemy was suspended over Rome; it was averted by the mild eloquence and seasonable gifts of the pontiff, who commanded the respect of heretics and barbarians.” Compare Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12-15. On the supposition, now, that the inspired author of the Apocalypse had Rome, in that state when the civil power declined and the papacy arose, in his eye, what more expressive imagery could he have used to denote it than he has employed? On the supposition - if such a supposition could be made - that Mr. Gibbon meant to furnish a commentary on this passage, what more appropriate language could he have used? Does not this language look as if the author of the Apocalypse and the author of the Decline and Fall meant to play into each other’s hands?
And, in further confirmation of this, I may refer to the testimony of two Roman Catholic writers, giving the same view of Rome and showing that, in their apprehension also, it was only by the reviving influence of the papacy that Rome was saved from becoming a total waste. They are both of the middle ages. The first is Augustine Steuchus, who thus writes: “The empire having been overthrown, unless God had raised up the “pontificate,” Rome, resuscitated and restored by none, would have become uninhabitable, and been a most foul habitation thenceforward of cattle. But in the pontificate it revived as with a second birth; its empire in magnitude not indeed equal to the old empire, but its form not very dissimilar: because all nations, from East and from West, venerate the pope, not otherwise than they before obeyed the emperor.” The other is Flavio Blondas: “The princes of the world now adore and worship as perpetual dictator the successor not of Caesar but of the fisherman Peter; that is, the supreme pontiff, the substitute of the aforesaid emperor.” See the original in Elliott, 3:113.
And I saw a woman - Evidently the same which is referred to in Revelation 17:1.
Sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast - That is, either the beast was itself naturally of this color, or it was covered with trappings of this color. The word “scarlet” properly denotes a bright red color - brighter than crimson, which is a red color tinged with blue. See the notes on Isaiah 1:18. The word used here - κόκκινον kokkinon - occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Matthew 27:28; Hebrews 9:19; Revelation 17:3-4; Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16 - in all which places it is rendered “scarlet.” See the Matthew 27:28 note and Hebrews 9:19 note. The color was obtained from a small insect which was found adhering to the shoots of a species of oak in Spain and Western Asia. This was the usual color in the robes of princes, military cloaks, etc. It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because this is a favorite color there. Thus it is used in Revelation 12:3, where the same power is represented under the image of a “red dragon.”
See the notes on that passage. It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favorite color at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion. Those who are familiar with the descriptions given of papal Rome by travelers, and those who have passed much time in Rome, will see at once the propriety of this description, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to the papacy. I caused this inquiry to be made of an intelligent gentleman who had passed much time in Rome - without his knowing my design what would strike a stranger on visiting Rome, or what would be likely particularly to arrest his attention as remarkable there; and he unhesitatingly replied, “The scarlet color.” This is the color of the dress of the cardinals - their hats, and cloaks, and stockings being always of this color.
It is the color of the carriages of the cardinals, the entire body of the carriage being scarlet, and the trappings of the horses the same. On occasion of public festivals and processions, scarlet is suspended from the windows of the houses along which processions pass. The inner color of the cloak of the pope is scarlet; his carriage is scarlet; the carpet on which he treads is scarlet. A large part of the dress of the body-guard of the pope is scarlet; and no one can take up a picture of Rome without seeing that this color is predominant. I looked through a volume of engravings representing the principal officers and public persons of Rome. There were few in which the scarlet color was not found as constituting some part of their apparel; in not a few the scarlet color prevailed almost entirely. And in illustration of the same thought, I introduce here an extract from a foreign newspaper, copied into an American newspaper of Feb. 22, 1851, as an illustration of the fact that the scarlet color is characteristic of Rome, and of the readiness with which it is referred to in that respect: “Curious Costumes - The three new cardinals, the archbishops of Thoulouse, Rheims, and Besancon, were presented to the president of the French Republic by the Pope’s nuncio. They wore red caps, red stockings, black Roman coats lined and bound with red, and small cloaks.” I conclude, therefore, that if it be admitted that it was intended to represent papal Rome in the vision, the precise description would have been adopted which is found here.
Full of names of blasphemy - All covered over with blasphemous titles and names. What could more accurately describe papal Rome than this? Compare for some of these names and titles the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; and notes on Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:5.
Having seven heads and ten horns - See the notes on Revelation 13:1.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour - On the nature of the scarlet color, see the notes on Revelation 17:3. The purple color - πορφύρα porphura - was obtained from a species of shellfish found on the coasts of the Mediterranean, which yielded a reddish-purple dye, much prized by the ancients. Robes dyed in that color were commonly worn by persons of rank and wealth, Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20; Luke 16:19. The purple color contains more blue than the crimson, though the limits are not very accurately defined, and the words are sometimes interchanged. Thus the mock robe put on the Saviour is called in Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20, πορφύραν porphuran - “purple,” and in Matthew 27:28, κοκκίνην kokkinēn - “crimson.” On the applicability of this to the papacy, see the notes on Revelation 17:3.
And decked with gold - After the manner of an harlot, with rich jewelry.
And precious stones - Sparkling diamonds, etc.
And pearls - Also a much-valued female ornament. Compare the notes on Matthew 7:6; Matthew 13:46.
Having a golden cup in her hand - As if to entice lovers. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
Full of abominations - Of abominable things; of things suited to excite abhorrence and disgust; things unlawful and forbidden. The word, in the Scriptures, is commonly used to denote the impurities and abominations of idolatry. See the notes on Daniel 9:27. The meaning here is, that it seemed to be a cup filled with wine, but it was in fact a cup full of all abominable drugs, leading to all kinds of corruption. How much in accordance this is with the fascinations of the papacy, it is not necessary now to say, after the ample illustrations of the same thing already furnished in these notes.
And filthiness of her fornication - The image here is that of papal Rome, represented as an abandoned woman in gorgeous attire, alluring by her arts the nations of the earth, and seducing them into all kinds of pollution and abomination. It is a most remarkable fact that the papacy, as if designing to furnish a fulfillment of this prophecy, has chosen to represent itself almost precisely in this manner - as a female extending an alluring cup to passers by - as will be seen by the engraving on this page. Far as the design of striking this medal may have been from confirming this portion of the Book of Revelation, yet no one can fail to see that if this had been the design, no more happy illustration could have been adopted. Apostate churches, and guilty nations, often furnish the very proofs necessary to confirm the truth of the Scriptures.
And upon her forehead - In a circlet around her forehead. That is, it was made prominent and public, as if written on the forehead in blazing capitals. In Revelation 13:1 it is said that “the name of blasphemy” was written on the “heads” of the beast. The meaning in both places is substantially the same, that it was prominent, and unmistakable. See the notes on that verse. Compare the note on Revelation 14:1.
Was a name written - A title, or something that would properly indicate her character.
Mystery - It is proper to remark that there is nothing in the original as written by John, so far as now known, that corresponded with what is implied in placing this inscription in capital letters; and the same remark may be made of the “title” or inscription that was placed over the head of the Saviour on the cross, Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19. Our translators have adopted this form, apparently for the sole purpose of denoting that it was an inscription or title. On the meaning of the word “mystery,” see the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:7. Compare the notes on 1 Timothy 3:16. Here it seems to be used to denote that there was something hidden, obscure, or enigmatical, under the title adopted; that is, the word “Babylon,” and the word “mother,” were symbolical. Our translators have printed and pointed the word “mystery” as if it were part of the inscription. It would probably be better to regard it as referring to the inscription, thus: “a name was written - a mysterious name, to wit, Babylon,” etc. Or, “a name was written mysteriously.” According to this, it would mean, not that there was any wonderful “mystery” about the thing itself, whatever might be true on that point, but that the name was enigmatical or symbolical; or that there was something hidden or concealed under the name. It was not to be literally understood.
Babylon the great - papal Rome, the nominal head of the Christian world, as Babylon had been of the pagan world. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
The mother of harlots -
- Of that spiritual apostasy from God which, in the language of the prophets, might be called adultery. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
- The promoter of lewdness by her institutions. See the notes on Revelation 9:21. In both these senses, there never was a more expressive or appropriate title than the one here employed.
And abominations of the earth - Abominable things that prevail on the earth, Revelation 17:4. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:20-21.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints - A reeling, intoxicated harlot, for that is the image which is kept up all along. In regard to the phrase “drunken with blood,” compare Jeremiah 46:10. “The phraseology is derived from the barbarous custom (still extant among many pagan nations) of drinking the blood of the enemies slain in the way of revenge. The effect of drinking blood is said to be to exasperate, and to intoxicate with passion and a desire of revenge” (Prof. Stuart, in loco). The meaning here is, that the persecuting power referred to had shed the blood of the saints; and that, in its fury, it had, as it were, drunk the blood of the slain, and had become, by drinking that blood, intoxicated and infuriated. No one need say how applicable this has been to the papacy. Compare, however, the Daniel 7:21, Daniel 7:25 notes; Revelation 12:13-14; Revelation 13:15 notes.
And with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus - Especially with their blood. The meaning is, that the warfare, in which so much blood was shed, was directed against the saints as such, and that, in fact, it terminated particularly on those who, amidst cruel sufferings, were faithful witnesses for the Lord Jesus, and deserved to be called, by way of eminence, “martyrs.” Compare the notes on Revelation 2:13; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 11:5, Revelation 11:7. How applicable this is to the papacy, let the blood shed in the valleys of Piedmont; the blood shed in the Low Countries by the Duke of Alva; the blood shed on Bartholomew’s day; and the blood shed in the Inquisition, testify.
And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration - I was astonished at her appearance, at her apparel, and at the things which were so significantly symbolized by her.
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? - He was doubtless struck with the appearance of John as he stood fixed in astonishment. The question asked him, “why” he wondered, was designed to show him that the cause of his surprise would be removed or lessened, for that he would proceed so to explain this that he might have a correct view of its design.
I will tell thee the mystery of the woman - On the word “mystery,” see the notes on Revelation 17:5. The sense is, “I will explain what is meant by the symbol - the hidden meaning that is couched under it.” That is, he would so far explain it that a just view might be obtained of its signification. The explanation follows, Revelation 17:8-18.
And of the beast that carrieth her, ... - Revelation 17:3.
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not - In the close of the verse it is added, “and yet is” - “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” There are three things affirmed here: first, that there is a sense in which it might be said of the power here referred to, that it “was,” or that, before this, it had an existence; second, that there was a sense in which it might be said that it is “not,” that is, that it had become practically extinct; and third, that there is a sense in which that power would be so revived that it might be said that it “still is.” The “beast” here referred to is the same that is mentioned in Revelation 17:3, and in Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:3,Revelation 13:11-16. That is, there was one great formidable power, having essentially the same origin, though manifested under somewhat different modifications, to one and all of which might, in their different manifestations, be given the same name, “the beast.”
And shall ascend out of the bottomless pit - ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου ek tēs abussou. On the meaning of the word here used, see the notes on Revelation 9:1. The meaning here is, that this power would seem to come up from the nether world. It would appear at one time to be extinct, but would revive again as if coming from the world over which Satan presides, and would, in its revived character, be such as might be expected from such an origin.
And go into perdition - That is, its end will be destruction. It will not be permanent, but will be overthrown and destroyed. The word perdition here is properly rendered by Prof. Stuart “destruction,” but nothing is indicated by the word of the “nature” of the destruction that would come upon it.
And they that dwell on the earth - The inhabitants of the earth generally; that is, the matter referred to will be so remarkable as to attract general attention.
Shall wonder - It will be so contrary to the regular course of events, so difficult of explanation, so remarkable in itself, as to excite attention and surprise.
Whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world - See this explained in the notes on Revelation 13:8. The idea seems to be, that those whose names are written in the book of life, or who are truly the friends of God, would not be drawn off in admiration of the beast, or in rendering homage to it.
When they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is - That is, the power that once was mighty; that had declined to such a state that it became, as it were, extinct; and that was revived again with so much of its original strength, that it might be said that it still exists. The fact of its being revived in this manner, as well as the nature of the power itself, seemed suited to excite this admiration.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom - Here is what requires wisdom to interpret it; or, here is a case in which the mind that shows itself able to explain it will evince true sagacity. So in Revelation 13:18. See the notes on that place. Prof. Stuart renders this, “Here is a meaning which compriseth wisdom.” It is undoubtedly implied that the symbol might be understood - whether in the time of John, or afterward, he does not say; but it was a matter which could not be determined by ordinary minds, or without an earnest application of the understanding.
The seven heads are seven mountains - Referring, undoubtedly, to Rome - the seven-hilled city - Septicollis Roma. See the notes on Revelation 12:3. (d).
On which the woman sitteth - The city represented as a woman, in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See the notes on Isaiah 1:8.
And there are seven kings - That is, seven in all, as they are enumerated in this verse and the next. An eighth is mentioned in Revelation 17:11, but it is, at the same time, said that this one so pertains to the seven, or is so properly in one sense of the number seven, though, in another sense, to be regarded as an eighth, that it may be properly reckoned as the seventh. The word “kings” - βασιλεῖς basileis - may be understood, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned:
(a)Literally, as denoting a king, or one who exercises royal authority;
(b)In a more general sense, as denoting one of distinguished honor - a viceroy, prince, leader, chief, Matthew 2:1, Matthew 2:3,Matthew 2:9; Luke 1:5; Acts 12:1;
(c)In a still larger sense, as denoting a dynasty, a form of government, a mode of administration, as what, in fact, “rules.”
See the notes on Daniel 7:24, where the word “king” undoubtedly denotes a “dynasty,” or “form of rule.” The notion of ruling, or of authority, is undoubtedly in the word, for the verb βασιλεύω basileuō means “to rule,” but the word may be applied to anything in which sovereignty resides. Thus it is applied to a king’s son, to a military commander, to the gods, to a Greek archon, etc. See Passow. It would be contrary to the whole spirit of this passage, and to what is demanded by the proper meaning of the word, to insist that the word should denote literally kings, and that it could not be applied to emperors, or to dictators, or to dynasties.
Five are fallen - Have passed away as if fallen; that is, they have disappeared. The language would be applicable to rulers who have died, or who had been dethroned; or to dynasties or forms of government that had ceased to be. In the fulfillment of this, it would be necessary to find five such successive kings or rulers who had died, and who pertained to one sovereignty or nation; or five such dynasties or forms of administrations that had successively existed, but which had ceased.
And one is - That is, there is one - a sixth - that now reigns. The proper interpretation of this would be, that this existed in the time of the writer; that is, according to the view taken of the time of the writing of the Apocalypse (see Intro., section 2), at the close of the first century.
And the other is not yet come - The sixth one is to be succeeded by another in the same line, or occupying the same dominion.
And when he cometh - When that form of dominion is set up. No intimation is yet given as to the time when this would occur.
He must continue a short space - ὀλίγον oligon. A short time; his dominion will be of short duration. It is observable that this characteristic is stated as applicable only to this one of the seven; and the fair meaning would seem to be, that the time would be short as compared with the six that preceded, and as compared with the one that followed - the eighth - into which it was to be merged, Revelation 17:11.
And the beast that was, and is not - That is, the one power that was formerly mighty; that died away so that it might be said to be extinct; and yet Revelation 17:8 that “still is,” or has a prolonged existence. It is evident that, by the “beast” here, there is some one power, dominion, empire, or rule, whose essential identity is preserved through all these changes, and to which it is proper to give the same name. It finds its termination, or its last form, in what is here called the “eighth”; a power which, it is observed, sustains such a special relation to the seven, that it may be said to be “of the seven,” or to be a mere prolongation of the same sovereignty.
Even he is the eighth - The eighth in the succession. This form of sovereignty, though a mere prolongation of the former government, so much so as to be, in fact, but keeping up the same empire in the world, appears in such a novelty of form, that, in one sense, it deserves to be called the eighth in order, and yet is so essentially a mere concentration and continuance of the one power, that, in the general reckoning Revelation 17:10, it might be regarded as pertaining to the former. There was a sense in which it was proper to speak of it as the eighth power; and yet, viewed in its relation to the whole, it so essentially combined and concentrated all that there was in the seven, that, in a general view, it scarcely merited a separate mention. We should look for the fulfillment of this in some such concentration and embodiment of all that it was, in the previous forms of sovereignty referred to, that it perhaps would deserve mention as an eighth power, but that it was, nevertheless, such a mere prolongation of the previous forms of the one power, that it might be said to be “of the seven”; so that, in this view, it would not claim a separate consideration. This seems to be the fair meaning, though there is much that is enigmatical in the form of the expression.
And goeth into perdition - See the notes on Revelation 17:8.
In inquiring now into the application of this very difficult passage, it may be proper to suggest some of the principal opinions which have been held, and then to endeavor to ascertain the true meaning:
I. The principal opinions which have been held may be reduced to the following:
(1) That the seven kings here refer to the succession of Roman emperors, yet with some variation as to the manner of reckoning. Prof. Stuart begins with Julius Caesar, and reckons them in this manner: the “five that are fallen” are Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius. Nero, who, as he supposes, was the reigning prince at the time when the book was written, he regards as the sixth; Galba, who succeeded him, as the seventh. Others, who adopt this literal method of explaining it, suppose that the time begins with Augustus, and then Galba would be the sixth, and Otho, who reigned but three months, would be the seventh. The expression, “the beast that was, and is not, who is the eighth,” Prof. Stuart regards as referring to a general impression among the pagan and among Christians, in the time of the persecution under Nero, that he would again appear after it was reported that he was dead, or that he would rise from the dead and carry on his persecution again. See Prof. Stuart, Com. vol. ii., Excur. 3. The beast, according to this view, denotes the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, and the reference in Revelation 17:8 is to “the well known hariolation respecting Nero, that he would be assassinated, and would disappear for a while, and then make his appearance again to the confusion of all his enemies.” “What the angel,” says he, “says, seems to be equivalent to this - ‘The beast means the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, of whom the report spread throughout the empire that he will revive, after being apparently slain, and will come, as it were, from the abyss or Hades, but he will perish, and that speedily,’” vol. ii. p. 323.
(2) That the word “kings” is not to be taken literally, but that it refers to forms of government, dynasties, or modes of administration. The general opinion among those who hold this view is, that the first six refer to the forms of the Roman government:
(6)The imperial form, beginning with Augustus.
This has been the common Protestant interpretation, and in reference to these six forms of government there has been a general agreement. But, while the mass of Protestant interpreters have supposed that the “six” heads refer to these forms of administration, there has been much diversity of opinion as to the seventh; and here, on this plan of interpretation, the main, if not the sole difficulty lies. Among the opinions held are the following:
- That of Mr. Mede. He makes the seventh head what he calls the “Demi-Caesar,” or the “Western emperor who reigned after the division of the empire into East and West, and which continued, after the last division, under Honorius and Arcadius, about sixty years - a short space” (Works, book iii. ch. 8; book v. ch. 12).
- That of Dr. Newton, who regards the sixth or imperial “head” as continuing uninterruptedly through the line of Christian as well as pagan emperors, until Augustulus and the Heruli; and the seventh to be the Dukedom of Rome, established soon after under the exarchate of Ravenna (Prophecies, pp. 575, 576).
- That of Dr. More and Mr. Cunninghame, who suppose the Christian emperors, from Constantine to Augustulus, to constitute the seventh head, and that this had its termination by the sword of the Heruli.
- That of Mr. Elliott, who supposes the seventh head or power to refer to a new form of administration introduced by Diocletian, changing the administration from the original imperial character to that of an absolute Asiatic sovereignty. For the important changes introduced by Diocletian that justify this remark, see the Decline and Fall, vol. i. pp. 212-217.
Numerous other solutions may be found in Poole’s Synopsis, but these embrace the principal, and the most plausible that have been proposed.
II. I proceed, then, to state what seems to me to be the true explanation. This must be found in some facts that will accord with the explanation given of the meaning of the passage:
(1) There can be no doubt that this refers to Rome, either pagan, Christian, or papal. All the circumstances combine in this; all respectable interpreters agree in this. This would be naturally understood by the symbols used by John, and by the explanations furnished by the angel. See Revelation 17:18; “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Every circumstance combines here in leading to the conclusion that Rome is intended. There was no other power or empire on the earth to which this could be properly applied; there was everything in the circumstances of the writer to lead us to suppose that this was referred to; there is an utter impossibility now in applying the description to anything else.
(2) It was to be a revived power; not a power in its original form and strength. This is manifest, because it is said Revelation 17:8 that the power represented by the beast “was, and is not, and yet is” - that is, it was once a mighty power; it then declined so that it could be said that “it is not”; and yet there was so much remaining vitality in it, or so much revived power, that it could be said that it “still is” - καίπερ ἐστίν kaiper estin. Now, this is strictly applicable to Rome when the papal power arose. The old Roman might had departed; the glory and strength evinced in the days of the consuls, the dictators, and the emperors, had disappeared, and yet there was a lingering vitality, and a reviving of power under the papacy, which made it proper to say that it still continued, or that that mighty power was prolonged. The civil power connected with the papacy was a revived Roman power - the Roman power prolonged under another form - for it is susceptible of clear demonstration that, if it had not been for the rise of the papal power, the sovereignty of Rome, as such, would have been wholly extinct. For the proof of this, see the passages quoted in the notes on Revelation 17:3. Compare the notes on Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:15.
(3) It was to be a power emanating from the “abyss,” or that would seem to ascend from the dark world beneath. See Revelation 17:8. This was true in regard to the papacy, either:
(a)As apparently ascending from the lowest state and the most depressed condition, as if it came up from below (see the notes on Revelation 17:3, compare Revelation 13:11); or,
(b)As, in fact, having its origin in the world of darkness, and being under the control of the prince of that world, which, according to all the representations of that formidable anti-Christian power in the Scriptures, is true, and which the whole history of the papacy, and of its influence on religion, confirms.
(4) One of the powers referred to sustained the other. “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth,” Revelation 17:9. That is, the power represented by the harlot was sustained or supported by the power represented by the seven heads or the seven mountains. Literally, applied, this would mean that the papacy, as an ecclesiastical institution, was sustained by the civil power, with which it was so closely connected. For the illustration and support of this, see the notes on Revelation 13:2-3, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:15. In the notes on these passages it is shown that the support was mutual; that while the papacy, in fact, revived the almost extinct Roman civil power, and gave it new vitality, the price of that was, that it should be, in its turn, sustained by that revived Roman civil power. All history shows that that has been the fact; that in all its aggressions, assumptions, and persecutions, it has, in fact, and professedly, leaned on the arm of the civil power.
(5) A more important inquiry, and a more serious difficulty, remains in respect to the statements respecting the “seven kings,” Revelation 17:10-11. The statements on this point are, that the whole number properly was seven; that of this number five had fallen or passed away; that one was in existence at the time when the author wrote; that another one was yet to appear who would continue for a little time; and that the general power represented by all these would be embodied in the “beast that was, and is not,” and that might, in some respects, be regarded as an “eighth.” These points may be taken up in their order:
(a) The first inquiry relates to the five that were fallen and the one that was then in existence - the first six. These may be taken together, for they are manifestly of the same class, and have the same characteristics, at least so far as to be distinguished from the “seventh” and the “eighth.” The meaning of the word “kings” here has been already explained, Revelation 17:10. It denotes ruling power, or forms of power; and, so far as the signification of the word is concerned, it might be applicable to royalty, or to any other form of administration. It is not necessary, then, to find an exact succession of princes or kings that would correspond with this - five of whom were dead, and one of whom was then on the throne, and all soon to be succeeded by one more, who would soon die.
The true explanation of this seems to be what refers this to the forms of the Roman government or administration. These six “heads,” or forms of administration, were, in their order, Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, and Emperors. Of these, five had passed away in the time when John wrote the Apocalypse; the sixth, the imperial, was then in power, and had been from the time of Augustus Caesar. The only questions that can be raised are, whether these forms of administration were so distinct and prominent, and whether in the times previous to John they so embraced the whole Roman power, as to justify this interpretation - that is, whether these forms of administration were so marked in this respect that it may be supposed that John would use the language here employed in describing them. As showing the probability that he would use this language, I refer to the following arguments, namely:
(1) The authority of Livy, lib. 6:cap. 1. Speaking of the previous parts of his history, and of what he had done in writing it, he says: “Quae ab condita urbe Roma a.d. captam eandem urbem, Romani sub regibus primum, consulibus deinde ac dictatoribus, decemviris ac tribunis consularibus gessere, foris bella, domi seditiones, quinque libris exposui.” That is, “In five books I have related what was done at Rome, pertaining both to foreign wars and domestic strifes, from the foundation of the city to the time when it was taken, as it was governed by kings, by consuls, by dictators, by the decemvirs, and by consular tribunes.” Here he mentions five forms of administration under which Rome had been governed in the earlier periods of its history. The imperial power had a later origin, and did not exist until near the time of Livy himself.
(2) The same distribution of power, or forms of government, among the Romans, is made by Tacitus, Annual. lib. i. cap. 1: “Urbem Romam a principio reges habuere. Libertatem et consulatum L. Brutus instituit. Dictaturae a.d. tempus sumebantur. Neque decemviralis potestas ultra biennium, neque tribunorum militum consulure jus diu valuit. Non Cinnae, non Syllae longa dominatio: et Pompeii Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in Augustum cessere; qui cuncta, discordiis civilibus fessa, nomine principis sub imperium accepit.” That is, “In the beginning, Rome was governed by kings. Then L. Brutus gave to her liberty and the consulship. A temporary power was conferred on the dictators. The authority of the decemvirs did not continue beyond the space of two years: neither was the consular power of the military tribunes of long duration. The rule of Cinna and Sylla was brief; and the power of Pompey and Crassus passed into the hands of Caesar; and the arms of Lepidus and Antony were surrendered to Augustus, who united all things, broken by civil discord, under the name of prince in the imperial government.” Here Tacitus distinctly mentions the six forms of administration that had prevailed in Rome, the last of which was the imperial. It is true, also, that he mentions the brief rule of certain men - as Cinna, Sylla, Antony, and Lepidus; but these are not forms of administration, and their temporary authority did not indicate any change in the government - for some of these men were dictators, and none of them, except Brutus and Augustus, established any permanent form of administration.
(3) The same thing is apparent in the usual statements of history, and the books that describe the forms of government at Rome. In so common a book as Adam’s Roman Antiquities, a description may be found of the forms of Roman administration that corresponds almost precisely with this. The forms of supreme power in Rome, as enumerated there, are what are called ordinary and extraordinary magistrates. Under the former are enumerated kings, consuls, praetors, censors, quaestors, and tribunes of the people. But of these, in fact, the supreme power was vested in two; for there were, under this, but two forms of administration - that of kings and consuls; the offices of praetor, censor, quaestor, and tribune of the people being merely subordinate to that of the consuls, and no more a new form of administration than the offices of secretary of the state, of war, of the navy, of the interior, are now. Under the latter - that of extraordinary magistrates - are enumerated dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, and the interrex. But the interrex did not constitute a form of administration, or a change of government, anymore than, when the President or Vice-president of the United States should die, the performance of the duties of the office of president by the speaker of the senate would indicate a change, or than the regency of the Prince of Wales in the time of George III constituted a new form of government. So that, in fact, we have enumerated, as constituting the supreme power at Rome, kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, and military tribunes - five in number. The imperial power was the sixth.
(4) In confirmation of the same thing, I may refer to the authority of Bellarmine, a distinguished Roman Catholic writer. In his work De Pontiff., cap. 2, he thus enumerates the changes which the Roman government had experienced, or the forms of administration that had existed there:
- Military Tribunes with consular power;
See Poole’s Synoptists, in loco. And,
(5) It may be added, that this would be understood by the contemporaries of John in this sense. These forms of government were so marked that, in connection with the mention of the “seven mountains,” designating the city, there could be no doubt as to what was intended. Reference would at once be made to the imperial power as then existing, and the mind would readily and easily turn back to the five main forms of the supreme administration which had existed before.
(b) The next inquiry is, what is denoted by “the seventh.” If the word “kings” here refers, as is supposed (see the notes on Revelation 17:10), to a form of government or administration; if the “five” refer to the forms previous to the imperial, and the “sixth” to the imperial; and if John wrote during the imperial government, then it follows that this must refer to some form of administration that was to succeed the imperial. If the papacy was “the eighth,” and of the “seventh,” then it is clear that this must refer to some form of civil administration lying between the decline of the imperial and the rise of the papal power: that “short space” - for it was a short space that intervened. Now, there can be no difficulty, I think, in referring this to that form of administration over Rome that “dukedom” under the exarchate of Ravenna, which succeeded the decline of the imperial power, and which preceded the rise of the papal power; between the year 566 or 568, when Rome was reduced to a dukedom, under the exarchate of Ravenna, and the time when the city revolted from this authority and became subject to that of the pope, about the year 727.
This period continued, according to Mr. Gibbon, about two hundred years. He says, “During a period of two hundred years, Italy was unequally divided between the kingdom of the Lombards and the exarchate of Ravenna. The offices and professions, which the jealousy of Constantine had separated, were united by the indulgence of Justinian; and eighteen successive exarchs were invested, in the decline of the empire, with the full remains of civil, of military, and even of ecclesiastical power. Their immediate jurisdiction, which was afterward consecrated as the patrimony of Peter, extended over the modern Romagna, the marshes or valleys of Ferrara and Commachic, five maritime cities from Rimini to Ancona, and a second inland Pentapolis, between the Adriatic coast and the hills of the Apennine. The duchy of Rome appears to have included the Tuscan, Sabine, and Latian conquests, of the first four hundred years of the city; and the limits may be distinctly traced along the coast, from Civita Vecchia to Terracina, and with the course of the Tiber from Ameria and Narni to the port of Ostia” (Dec. and Fall, 3:202).
How accurate is this if it be regarded as a statement of a new power or form of administration that succeeded the imperial - a power that was, in fact, a prolongation of the old Roman authority, and that was designed to constitute and embody it all! Could Mr. Gibbon have furnished a better commentary on the passage if he had adopted the interpretation of this portion of the Apocalypse above proposed, and if he had designed to describe this as the seventh power in the successive forms of the Roman administration? It is worthy of remark, also, that this account in Mr. Gibbon’s history immediately precedes the account of the rise of the papacy; the record respecting the exarchate, and that concerning Gregory the Great, described by Mr. Gibbon as “the Saviour of Rome,” occurring in the same chapter, vol. iii. 202-211.
(c) This was to “continue for a short space” - for a little time. If this refers to the power to which in the remarks above it is supposed to refer, it is easy to see the propriety of this statement. Compared with the previous form of administration - the imperial - it was of short duration; absolutely considered, it was brief. Mr. Gibbon (iii. 202) has marked it as extending through “a period of two hundred years”; and if this is compared with the form of administration which preceded it, extending to more than five hundred years, and more especially with that which followed - the papal form - which has extended now some twelve hundred years, it will be seen with what propriety this is spoken of as continuing for a “short space.”
(d) “The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven,” Revelation 17:11. If the explanations above given are correct, there can be no difficulty in the application of this to the papal power; for:
(1) All this power was concentrated in the papacy, all that revived or prolonged Roman power had now passed into the papacy, constituting that mighty dominion which was to be set up for so many centuries over what had been the Roman world. See the statements of Mr. Gibbon (iii. 207-211), as quoted in the notes on Revelation 17:3. Compare also, particularly, the remarks of Augustine Steuchus, a Roman Catholic writer, as quoted in the notes on that verse: “The empire having been overthrown, unless God had raised up the pontificate, Rome, resuscitated and restored by none, would have become uninhabitable, and been thenceforward a most foul habitation of cattle. But in the pontificate it revived as with a second birth; its empire in magnitude not indeed equal to the old empire, but its form not very dissimilar: because all nations, from East and from West, venerate the pope, not otherwise than they before obeyed the emperor.”
(2) This was an eighth power or form of administration - for it was different, in many respects, from that of the kings, the consuls, the dictators, the decemvirs, the military tribunes, the emperors, and the dukedom - though it comprised substantially the power of all. Indeed, it could not have been spoken of as identical with either of the previous forms of administration, though it concentrated the power which had been wielded by them all.
(3) It was “of the seven”; that is, it pertained to them; it was a prolongation of the same power. It had the same central seat - Rome; it extended over the same territory, and it embraced sooner or latter the same nations. There is not one of those forms of administration which did not find a prolongation in the papacy; for it aspired after, and succeeded in obtaining, all the authority of kings, dictators, consuls, emperors. It was in fact still the Roman scepter swayed over the world; and with the strictest propriety it could be said that it was “of the seven,” as having sprung out of the seven, and as perpetuating the sway of this mighty domination. For full illustration of this, see the Daniel 7:0 notes; and Revelation 13:0 notes.
(4) It would “go into perdition”; that is, it would be under this form that this mighty domination that had for so many ages ruled over the earth would die away, or this would be the last in the series. The Roman dominion, as such, would not be extended to a ninth, or tenth, or eleventh form, but would finally expire under the eighth. Every indication shows that this is to be so, and that with the decline of the papal power the whole Roman domination, that has swayed a scepter for two thousand five hundred years, will have come forever to an end. If this is so, then we have found an ample and exact application of this passage even in its most minute specifications.
And the ten horns which thou sawest - On the scarlet-colored beast, Revelation 17:3.
Are ten kings - Represent or denote ten kings - that is, kingdoms or powers. See the notes on Daniel 7:24.
Which have received no kingdom as yet - That is, they were not in existence when John wrote. It is implied, that during the period under review they would arise, and would become connected, in an important sense, with the power here represented by the “beast.” For a full illustration respecting the ten “kings,” or kingdoms here referred to, see the notes on Daniel 7:0, at the close of the chapter, II. (2).
But receive power - It is not said from what source this power is received, but it is simply implied that it would in fact be conferred on them.
As kings - That is, the power would be what is usually exercised by kings.
One hour - It cannot be supposed that this is to be taken literally. The meaning clearly is, that this would be brief and temporary; that is, it was a form of administration which would be succeeded by one more fixed and permanent. Anyone can see that, in fact, this is strictly applicable to the governments, as referred to in the notes on Daniel, which sprang up after the incursion of the northern barbarians, and which were finally succeeded by the permanent forms of government in Europe. Most of them were very brief in their duration, and they were soon remodelled in the forms of permanent administration. Thus, to take the arrangement proposed by Sir Isaac Newton:
(1)The kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in Spain and Africa;
(2)The kingdom of the Suevians in Spain;
(3)The kingdom of the Visigoths;
(4)The kingdom of the Alans in Gallia;
(5)The kingdom of the Burgundians;
(6)The kingdom of the Franks;
(7)The kingdom of the Britons;
(8)The kingdom of the Huns;
(9)The kingdom of the Lombards;
(10)The kingdom of Ravenna - how temporary were most of these; how soon they passed into the more permanent forms of administration which succeeded them in Europe!
With the beast - With that rising papal power. They would exercise their authority in connection with that, and under its influence.
These have one mind - That is, they are united in the promotion of the same object. Though in some respects wholly independent of each other, yet they may be regarded as, in fact, so far united that they tend to promote the same ultimate end. As a fact in history, all these kingdoms, though of different origin, and though not infrequently engaged in war with each other, became Roman Catholics, and were united in the support of the papacy. It was with propriety, therefore, that they should be regarded as so closely connected with that power that they could be represented as “ten horns” on the seven-headed monster.
And shall give their power and strength unto the beast - Shall lend their influence to the support of the papacy, and become the upholders of that power. The meaning, according to the interpretation above proposed, is, that they would all become papal kingdoms, and supporters of the papal power. It is unnecessary to pause to show how true this has been in history. At first, most of the people out of whom these kingdoms sprang were pagans; then many of them embraced Christianity under the prevailing form of Arianism, and this fact was for a time a bar to their perfect adhesion to the Roman see; but they were all ultimately brought wholly under its influence, and became its supporters. In 496 a.d., Clovis, the king of the Franks, on occasion of his victory over the Allemanni, embraced the Catholic faith, and so received the title, transmitted downward through nearly thirteen hundred years to the French kings as his successors, of “the oldest son of the church”; in the course of the sixth century, the kings of Burgundy, Bavaria, Spain, Portugal, England, embraced the same religion, and became the defenders of the papacy. It is well known that each one of the powers above enumerated as constituting these ten kingdoms, became subject to the papacy, and continued so during their separate existence, or when merged into some other power, until the Reformation in the sixteenth century. All “their power and strength was given unto the beast”; all was made subservient to the purposes of papal Rome.
These shall make war with the Lamb - The Lamb of God - the Lord Jesus (See the notes at Revelation 5:6); that is, they would combine with the papacy in opposing evangelical religion. It is not meant that they would openly and avowedly proclaim war against the Son of God, but that they would practically do this in sustaining a persecuting power. It is unnecessary to show how true this has been in history; how entirely they sustained the papacy in all its measures of persecution.
And the Lamb shall overcome them - Shall ultimately gain the victory over them. The meaning is, that they would not be able to extinguish the true religion. In spite of all opposition and persecution, that would still live in the world, until it would be said that a complete triumph was gained.
For he is Lord of lords, and King of kings - He has supreme power over all the earth, and all kings and princes are subject to his control. Compare Revelation 19:16.
And they that are with him - The reference is to the persecuted saints who have adhered to him as his faithful followers in all these protracted conflicts.
Are called - That is, called by him to be his followers; as if he had selected them out of the world to maintain his cause. See the notes on Romans 1:7.
And chosen - See the John 15:16 note, and 1 Peter 1:2 note. In their steadfast adherence to the truth, they had shown that they were truly chosen by the Saviour, and could be relied on in the warfare against the powers of evil.
And faithful - They had shown themselves faithful to him in times of persecution, and in the hour of darkness.
And he saith unto me - The angel, Revelation 17:7. This commences the more “literal” statement of what is meant by these symbols. See the Analysis of the chapter.
The waters which thou sawest - See the notes on Revelation 17:1.
Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - For an explanation of these terms, see the notes on Revelation 7:9. The meaning here is:
(a) that these waters represent a multitude of people. This is a common and an obvious symbol - for outspread seas or raging floods would naturally represent such a multitude. See Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Jeremiah 47:2. Compare Iliad, v. 394. The sense here is, that vast numbers of people would be subject to the power here represented by the woman.
(b) They would be composed of different nations, and would be of different languages, It is unnecessary to show that this, in both respects, is applicable to the papacy. Nations have been, and are subject to its control, and nations speaking a large part of the languages of the world. Perhaps under no one government - not even the Babylonian, the Macedonian, or the ancient Roman - was there so great a diversity of people, speaking so many different languages, and having so different an origin.
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast - Revelation 17:3. The ten powers or kingdoms represented by those horns. See the notes on Revelation 17:12.
These shall hate the whore - There seems to be some incongruity between this statement and what was previously made. In the former Revelation 17:12-14, these ten governments are represented as in alliance with the beast; as “giving all their power and strength” unto it; and as uniting with it in making war with the Lamb. What is here said must, therefore, refer to some subsequent period, indicating some great change in their feelings and policy. We have seen the evidence of the fulfillment of the former statements. This statement will be accomplished if these same powers, represented by the ten horns, that were formerly in alliance with the papacy, shall become its enemy, and contribute to its final overthrow. That is, it will be accomplished if the nations of Europe, embraced within the limits of those ten kingdoms, shall become hostile to the papacy, and shall combine for its overthrow. Is anything more probable than this? France (see the notes on Revelation 16:0) has already struck more than one heavy blow on that power; England has been detached from it; many of the states of Italy are weary of it, and are ready to rise up against it; and nothing is more probable than that Spain, Portugal, France, Lombardy, and the papal States themselves, will yet throw off the yoke forever, and put an end to a power that has so long ruled over people. It was with the utmost difficulty, in 1848, that the papal power was sustained, and this was done only by foreign swords; the papacy could not probably be protected in another such outbreak. And this passage leads us to anticipate that the period will come - and that probably not far in the future - when those powers that have for so many ages sustained the papacy will become its determined foes, and will rise in their might and bring it forever to an end.
And shall make her desolate and naked - Strip her of all her power and all her attractiveness. That is, applied to papal Rome, all that is so gorgeous and alluring - her wealth, and pomp, and splendor - shall be taken away, and she will be seen as she is, without anything to dazzle the eye or to blind the mind.
And shall eat her flesh - Shall completely destroy her - as if her flesh were consumed. Perhaps the image is taken from the practice of cannibals eating the flesh of their enemies slain in battle. If so, nothing could give a more impressive idea of the utter destruction of this formidable power, or of the feelings of those by whom its end would be brought about.
And burn her with fire - Another image of total destruction. Perhaps the meaning may be, that after her flesh was eaten, such parts of her as remained would be thrown into the fire and consumed. If this be the meaning, the image is a very impressive one to denote absolute and total destruction. Compare the notes on Revelation 18:8.
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will - That is, in regard to the destruction of this mighty power. They would be employed as his agents in bringing about his designs. Kings and princes are under the control of God, and, whatever may be their own designs, they are in fact employed to accomplish his purposes, and are instruments in his hands. See the notes on Isaiah 10:7. Compare Psalms 76:10.
And to agree - See Revelation 17:13. That is, they act harmoniously in their support of this power, and so they will in its final destruction.
And give their kingdom unto the beast - See the notes at Revelation 17:13.
Until the words of God shall be fulfilled - Not forever; not as a permanent arrangement. God has fixed a limit to the existence of this power. When his purposes are accomplished, these kingdoms will withdraw their support, and this mighty power will fall to rise no more.
And the woman which thou sawest - Revelation 17:3.
Is that great city - Represents that great city.
Which reigneth over the kings of the earth - Rome would of course be understood by this language in the time of John, and all the circumstances, as we have seen, combined to show that Rome, in some form of its dominion, is intended. Even the name could hardly have designated it more clearly, and all expositors agree in supposing that Rome, either as pagan or as Christian, is referred to. The chapter shows that its power is limited; and that, although for purposes which he saw to be wise, God allows it to have a wide influence over the nations of the earth, yet, in his own appointed time, the very powers that have sustained it will become its foes, and combine for its overthrow. Europe needs but little further provocation, and the fires of liberty, which have been so long pent up, will break forth, and that storm of indignation which has expelled the Jesuits from all the courts of Europe; which has abolished the Inquisition; which has more than once led hostile armies to the very gates of papal Rome, will again be aroused in a manner which cannot be allayed, and that mighty power, which has controlled so large a part of the nations of Europe for more than a thousand years of the world’s history, will come to an end.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11