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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-18


Babylon, the Harlot, and Her judgment

1. The description of the woman (Revelation 17:1-6 )

2. The angel’s interpretation (Revelation 17:7-15 )

3. The desolation of the whore (Revelation 17:16-18 )

4. The angelic announcement (Revelation 18:1-3 )

5. The call to separation (Revelation 18:4-5 )

6. Her pride and destruction (Revelation 18:6-8 )

7. Lamentation and jubilation (Revelation 18:9-20 )

8. Her utter and eternal destruction (Revelation 18:21-24 )

Revelation 17:1-6 .

Babylon was mentioned for the first time in this book in Revelation 14:8 ; her fall was then anticipated. In two chapters we have a description of her and the details of her overthrow and complete destruction. Babylon is seen as a great, world-wide ecclesiastical, political and commercial system, and her dwelling-place, from where she exercises authority, is a great city, which is the seven-hilled city Rome. There are many who believe that the literal Babylon is in view here in these two chapters. It is claimed that literal Babylon on the banks of the Euphrates is to become once more a large city and the seat of government during the end of this age. Literal Babylon never was a part of the Roman empire, and as the Babylon of Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 is seen in closest identification with the empire, and for a time at least is at its center and capital, the Babylon in Asia is ruled out at once. Rome was the great center of the Roman empire and Rome will once more become the seat where the woman pictured in this chapter will exercise her authority.

In the first part of this chapter we have a description of the great harlot Babylon. Who, then, is this woman, branded a harlot, whom one of the seven angels who poured out the vials showed to John? She represents the papal system in its final power and control in the world. We shall see how this assertion is fully confirmed by the words of this chapter.

We saw in the church-message to Thyatira, which stands for the papacy and its great corruption, that Rome is pictured as the woman Jezebel, corresponding to the woman in the parable of the leaven. And of Thyatira it is said “she repents not.” This shows that Rome will continue in her corrupt ways to the end, till judgment overtakes her. She is to be cast into great tribulation (Revelation 2:22 ).

When the true Church is caught up, the papal system, as we call it, the Roman Catholic “church” will see a great revival. For a time she has been stripped of the temporal power she once had, but it will be restored to her. Along with the revival of the Roman empire there will be a revival of papal Rome. But we must look very briefly at some of the descriptions of this woman, the harlot. “She sitteth upon many waters.” We find the interpretation in Revelation 17:15 . “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth are peoples, and multitudes, and nations and tongues.” Rome even now can boast of her children among all nations. She gets her support from the whole world. And when she gets her revival she will have a still greater dominion. The kings of the earth will yield once more to her spiritual fornication. Then John saw the woman upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Who is the Beast she rides? It is the first beast of chapter 13, the revived Roman empire. She becomes identified with that empire. Her attire is purple and scarlet and she is decked with gold, precious stones and pearls. The pope and his cardinals wear these colors. Purple and scarlet are the leading colors displayed in great Romish celebrations; gold, precious stones and pearls describe her enormous wealth and dazzling glory, so attractive to the natural man. And in her hand was a golden cup full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.

How clearly this describes papal Rome. Her service, called worship, her rituals, her splendid edifices, etc., all are fair to behold and pleasing to the eye, like a golden cup. But inside we find her filthiness in doctrine and in practices. She encourages sin by her indulgences. With the celibacy there is also filth connected. And then the vileness and abomination of the confessional. Her shameless character is written upon her forehead. The true Church is to have His name upon the forehead and the great harlot-system bears an inscription.

Revelation 17:7-15 .

The interpreting angel told John who the beast is, the beast, that was, and is not, and yet is (Revelation 17:8 ). It is the Roman empire as stated before, it was, in an imperial form in John’s day. In the fifth century, A.D., it ceased existing as imperial Rome; it is not. But it is to be again, a revival which is here described as coming out of the pit of the abyss (chapter 13). Revelation 17:9 shows Rome (seven mountains), where the woman sitteth. Therefore, Rome speaks of “the See of the Papacy,” and “See” is derived from the Latin Sedes, which means seat or throne.

The seven kings or heads in Revelation 17:10 , mean different forms of government of the Roman empire. Five are fallen; these were kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs and military tribunes. These are past forms of government. But in John’s day the empire had the imperial form of government. This is the meaning of “one is.” The other and final form of the Roman empire “is not yet come.” That is in John’s day it had not yet come. It is the Satanic revival and control of the empire as we saw it in chapter 13. And the eighth head, which goeth into perdition, is the man who heads the empire, the little horn, which Daniel saw on the ten-horned beast. The ten horns in Revelation 17:12-13 are kings. They correspond to the ten toes on Nebuchadnezzar’s image and the ten horns on the fourth beast which Daniel saw coming out of the sea. And these ten kings yield their power and strength unto the beast. In Revelation 17:14 , their awful future is seen. We shall see this more fully in Revelation 19:11-21 . They are going to make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb, who is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, will overcome them. With Him are the called, the chosen and the faithful, that is the redeemed, who come with Him and are manifested when He appears.

Revelation 17:16-18 .

The woman rides the beast for a short time only. She will not be long successful in her regained power. The ten horns, the ten kingdoms, and the beast hate her and turn against the whore. (“And the Beast” is not in the Authorized Version; it is added in the Revised Version and belongs rightfully in the text.) First they were all for her and now they unite in making her desolate and naked and burn her with fire. But more than that “and shall eat her flesh,” just as Jezebel was eaten by the dogs. It is God in His righteous judgment who decreed her desolation in this way.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/revelation-17.html. 1913-1922.
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