Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-18

Babylon the great Harlot

The judgment on Rome, which had been announced before, is now shown in detail. The identification of ’Babylon’ with Rome, here and elsewhere in Rev., is supported (HDB.) by the following considerations:—The name Babylon in Revelation 17:5; ’is described as mystery, i.e. a name to be allegorically interpreted... B. is described (1) as “the harlot” the supreme antithesis of “the bride,” “the holy city,” “the new Jerus.” (2) as the centre and ruler of the nations, Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:15; Revelation 17:18; (3) as seated on “seven mountains,” Revelation 17:9; (4) as the source of idolatry and impurity, Revelation 17:2.; Revelation 18:2; Revelation 19:2... (5) as a great trading centre, Revelation 18:3, Revelation 18:11-19; (6) as enervated by luxury, Revelation 18:7, Revelation 18:12,. Revelation 18:22; (7) as the arch-persecutor of the saints and of “the witnesses of Jesus,” Revelation 17:6; Revelation 19:2.’ Babylon, as the seat of world-empire, and the ancient and persistent enemy of the people of God, was a striking type of Rome. Many think Rome is meant in 1 Peter 5:13.

1f. Rome is spoken of by the herald angel of the bowls as a harlot, cp. Isaiah 23:15. (Tyre), Nahum 3:4; (Nineveh), sitting on many waters, cp. Jeremiah 51:13; (Babylon), which signify the peoples over whom Rome ruled, cp. Revelation 17:15.

1. Vials] RV ’bowls.’

3-6. St. John is taken to a wilderness to see the harlot city, as in Isaiah 21:1 the vision of Babylon’s fall was declared from a wilderness. She is sitting on a beast, i.e. the Roman empire: cp. Isaiah 13:1. The beast is scarlet, because of the blood shed by Rome. It is full of names of blasphemy (e.g. Sebastos; see on Revelation 13:1), for in coins and seals and statues and temples the empire was full of such names. It has seven heads and ten horns, explained in Revelation 17:9, Revelation 17:12 (Revelation 17:3). The woman, i.e. the city, is clothed with luxury, and she has in her hand a golden cup, signifying debauchery: cp. Revelation 14:8; Jeremiah 51:7; (Revelation 17:4). On her forehead, after the custom of Roman harlots, is a label with her name (Revelation 17:5). She is drunken with the blood shed in the persecution of Nero. St. John wonders at her iniquity (Revelation 17:6).

6. Admiration] RV ’wonder.’ For some description of the condition of Rome, see Intro. Romans. The state of society at Rome, at the time of the Rev., was probably the worst the world had ever seen. The aristocracy, which alone had any voice in public affairs, was, with few exceptions, utterly given over to the most shameless wickedness. Vast wealth was in their hands, which was spent in unbridled luxury and debauchery. Their continual craving for new sensations was ministered to by foreign parasites, who introduced new vices and flagrant superstitions. With no feeling for others, their cruelty was appalling. With their appetite for life jaded by the pursuit of pleasure, suicide became common. The herded masses of the people were sunk in ignorance and pauperism. The public distribution of corn confirmed them in idleness, and the public shows helped to harden their hearts and to corrupt their feelings. The State religion was not believed in by the educated, while it had no moral teaching to provide for those who did believe in it, and there was no system of public education.

The Christians were accused of having caused the great fire which raged in Rome for nine days (64 a.d.) According to Tacitus, a great multitude were convicted, not only of incendiarism, but of hatred of mankind. Some were covered with the hides of wild beasts and worried to death by dogs; others were covered with pitch and set on fire at nightfall to illuminate the imperial gardens. For some years Christians were punished on the accusation of horrible crimes. Afterwards, certainly by the time of Domitian, the mere profession of Christianity became punishable.

7-18. The angel interprets the mystery (Revelation 17:7). The beast, which has previously represented the empire, now stands for Nero, in whom the cruelty of the empire had been personified: see on Revelation 13:3. He shall come up out of the ’abyss’ (RV), cp. Revelation 9:1 note, Revelation 11:7, i.e. return to life, and then go to perdition: cp. Revelation 19:20; Matthew 7:13; (Revelation 17:8). The seven heads have two significations. They represent the seven hills of Rome on which the city sits (Revelation 17:9). They also represent seven kings, i.e. probably Augustus (27 b.c.-14 a.d.), Tiberius (14-37), Caligula (37-41), Claudius (41-54), Nero (54-68), Vespasian (69-79), Titus (79-81). Five are dead; therefore, apparently, the prophecy was written in the reign of Vespasian. Titus is about to come (Revelation 17:10). Then Domitian (81-96) will reign. Besides being the eighth king, he will be ’Nero,’ because in him the persecuting spirit of Nero will have returned (Revelation 17:11). The ten horns are given an interpretation different from that in Revelation 13. Now they signify ’the kings from the sun-rising’ of Revelation 16:12; (Revelation 17:12). These are to join with the beast in war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them: cp. Revelation 16:16; Revelation 19:19. (Revelation 17:13.). In one sense, the Lamb overcame them when not even death could make Christ’s people unfaithful to Him; in another sense, when the empire became converted to Christ. The kings of the earth, joined to the beast, will turn against the city, and destroy and burn her. In Revelation 17:16 use is made of the common expectations that Nero, returned to life, and in alliance with the Parthians, would take signal vengeance on Rome for her rebellion against him (Revelation 17:16.). In Revelation 17:18 the city is identified with Rome. It is clear that the prophecy of the destruction of Rome, of which this chapter forms part, has not been fulfilled. It has been suggested that the rapid spread of Christianity in Rome altered the character of the city, and that, for this reason, God withheld the threatened judgment: cp. Genesis 18:26. (Sodom), Jonas Genesis 3:10; (Nineveh).

8. That was] RV ’how that he was.’ Yet is] RV ’shall come.’

9. Here is the mind, etc.] i.e. a wise man will be able to understand that which follows. The expression challenges the reader’s attention: cp. Revelation 13:8.

10. There] RV ’they.’

10f. He must continue, etc.] With a different punctuation of the Greek this might be rendered, ’he must continue a little while, and (so must) the beast which was and is not. And he himself is also an eighth,’ etc. With this rendering, the beast is not identified with one of his horns.

11. Even he is the eighth] RV ’is himself also an eighth.’

12. One hour] i.e. a very short time.

14. And they.. called] RV ’and they also shall overcome that are with him, called.’

16. Upon] RV ’and.’

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.