Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors




As the fourth group Revelation 12-14) represents the conflict of the three enemies against the Lamb and those who follow him with preliminary indications of their overthrow, so this sixth group, to which the fifth formed a sort of prelude, represents the judgment on the three enemies. In doing this, it does not stand merely at what is altogether general, but goes as far into detail as it could properly do without transgressing the limits which separate prophecy from history. In many respects we have here the most important part of the book before us. The striking clearness and accuracy with which we have here unfolded to us the most important evolutions in the history of the church, during the times which we can now long back upon, strengthens our faith in looking forward with confidence to the one event announced here, which still belongs to the future, ch. Revelation 20:10.

Whoever has attained to a right apprehension of the meaning of this group, he will find it a tabernacle into which he can retreat in tempestuous times. It is capable of affording an inexpressible rest and confidence to the soul.

The arrangement is as follows. In the representation of the conflict waged by the three enemies against Christ and his church, a descent is made from Satan down to the two beasts; but here, inversely in the representation of Christ’s victory, a rise takes place from the two beasts to Satan. In the first beast, again, it rises from the destruction of the two last heads, which, in St John’s time, were still present and future, the two last phases of the ungodly power of the world, in its heathen state, to the destruction of the beast itself. In the time of the Seer, the beast oppressed the church through the medium of the sixth head, the Roman monarchy; and through the medium of the possessor of this monarchy, the great whore, the Babylon of the then present time

Rome. The judgment of the great whore, the destruction of Rome in its property as the heathen mistress of the world, is unfolded in ch. 17. And now the ungodly power of the world must be conducted under the directing hand of God through its seventh and last phase, which, as had already been imaged in ch. 13, by the ten horns on the seventh head, was to possess, not a united, but a divided character, consisting of ten kings or kingdoms. These, as is said in Rev 17:14, by way of anticipation, were to war with the Lamb, and the Lamb was to overcome them. The overthrow of heathen Rome, which is simply and in some sharp features announced in ch. 17, is vividly portrayed in ch. 18. The prophecy as to its matter makes no advance here. The aim is only to imprint deeply in men’s minds what had already been represented in ch. 17. In ch. Revelation 19:1-4, the whole of this first part, so important and consolatory for those who, in the time of John, were sighing under the persecutions of Rome, and struggling with her seductions, concluded by the Te Deum laudamus of the just made perfect, celebrating God’s righteous judgment upon Rome.

This first song of praise of the heavenly church, which magnifies the grace of God contemplated as already past, is immediately followed up in ch. Revelation 19:5-10 by a second, which anticipatively gives thanks for what was still to be done, even to the setting up of the kingdom of Almighty God, and the celebration of the marriage feast of the Lamb; so that it forms the introduction to all that follows. The following portion represents how these anticipations are gradually realized. By means of the two songs of praise the whole of the group is divided into two great halves—the first containing the victory over the enemy, that at the time of the Seer pressed so hard upon the church; the second, the victory over all the other enemies.

First, in ch. Revelation 19:12-21, in further enlargement of what was indicated in ch. 17, we have the victory of Christ over the ten kings, the instruments of his judgment on Rome. Along with these, as the last phase of the heathen worldly power, the ten horns on the seventh head of the beast out of the sea, the beast himself also, the heathen state, goes down, and his tool likewise, the beast out of the earth, the false prophet, the God-opposing wisdom of the world.

Of the three enemies of the kingdom of God in ch. 13, two now lie prostrate on the ground. Ch. Revelation 20:1-6 represents how the third, Satan, is rendered for a time harmless. He is shut up for a thousand years in hell, and allows to the church, during that thousand years, a secure and unimperilled existence.

At the end of the thousand years opportunity is given to Satan anew for seduction; the earth again rises up against heaven; the church on all sides is heavily oppressed; but fire comes down from heaven and consumes her oppressors (“he who reads, let him understand.”) Satan is for ever disarmed of his power, and the final judgment overtakes all, who during the course of time have acted in a hostile manner toward the Lord and his church, ch. Revelation 20:7-15.

Now, since all the enemies of the kingdom of God have been brought to desolation, the opening song of praise has found its realization, the Almighty God has taken to himself the kingdom, the joyful time of the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the only thing that remains as an object for the seventh and last group is, the solemnization of this marriage.

Ch. 17. This chapter, according to the just remark of Bengel himself, divides itself into three parts, marked by the angel thrice commencing his discourse with the word, he spake, etc.

In the first part the judgment of the great whore, that sits upon the beast with the seven heads and ten horns, is shewn. The two others give the signification of the symbol. The first treats, as preparatory to the second, after the introduction in Revelation 17:7, of the beast in Revelation 17:8, of his seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, of the horns in Revelation 17:12-14. The second treats of the whore and the judgment that is held upon her, Revelation 17:15-18.

Verses 1-2

The Great Whore

Revelation 17:1. And there came one of the seven angels who have the seven vials, and spake with me and said, Come, I will shew thee the judgment of the great whore that sits upon the many waters. Revelation 17:2. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and they that dwell on the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. That one simply of the seven angels is spoken of, without determining which, shews that the matter turns not on the personality of the angel, but only on the genus. The function being attributed to one of the angels, who have the seven vials, must point to a close connection subsisting between this sixth vision and the fifth. The judgment of the great whore, which forms the theme here, was comprehended in the seven vials. It can neither proceed alongside of them, nor follow after them. For in the last plague, which annihilated the ungodly power of the world, Babylon the great is expressly named as a chief object of the judicial energy of God (ch. Revelation 16:19), hence, what is said here of her judgment can only be a more extended representation of a particular point; and it is to indicate this relation, that one of those angels appears as the leader. It is the same angel also that shews John, according to ch. Revelation 21:9, the bride, the Lamb’s wife. This is a simple result of his having here shewn the judgment of the great whore. There is no independent reason to be assigned. It hangs merely on the circumstance, that by the likeness of the individual showing, reference is made to the parallelism between the two women—the one of whom is brought down from the height to the depth, and the other raised up from the depth to the height. That the reason is no other than what we have stated is evident from the manifestly intentional verbal agreement of the second passage with the first, “And there came one of the seven angels, who have the seven vials, which are full of the seven last plagues, and spake with me, and said [Note: The μοι , which is added to the text that Luther follows, must be spurious for this reason alone, that it is wanting in this second passage.] : Come, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife; and he brought me in the Spirit to a mountain great and high.” In every part that did not absolutely require to be changed, the agreement is quite literal, only that the seven vials are more particularly described as being “full of the seven last plagues;” because there the seven vials lay more remote.

The angels are represented here as still having the seven vials. We might explain this with Bengel on the ground that the vials were poured out, indeed, but that the angels continue to hold them in their hands, as a memorial of what has been accomplished. But, according to the second passage, they not only have the vials, but the vials are still also full. We must therefore explain it on the ground that what John saw, was as to the substance only a symbolical representation, and that in reality the judgment was still future. The come, which the angel here calls out to the church in John, is like the come to Lazarus in John 11:43. It ought to place vividly before her the destruction of her enemies, and, in close connection with this, her own resurrection to new life. The judgment does not actually proceed here, as in the vials, but is only shewn.

The angel would shew John the judgment of the whore. John has properly to do here only with the woman; what he says of the beast, of his heads and horns, serves only as a foundation for what he has to say of the woman; and what is said in other respects of the woman, serves only as a preparation for the judgment. The judgment is the proper theme. In perfect correspondence with this is the circumstance of John being presently led away into the wilderness. [Note: Several, and even Bengel, have sought in vain to press upon κρίμα another signification; it corresponds to משפט in Jeremiah 51:9, comp. ch. 18:8: ἰ?σχυρὸ?ς κύριος ὁ? θεὸ?ς ὁ? κρίνας αὐ?τήν , Revelation 17:10: ἡ? κρίσις σου .]

The judgment is here already shewn to the Seer, and not, as some have supposed, first in ch. 18:He sees immediately in Revelation 17:3 the woman in the wilderness, and obtains the explanation in Revelation 17:16, that thereby her desolation is denoted.

Why Babylon or Rome is called the great whore—viz., on account of her selfishness concealing itself behind the appearance of love, on account of the diplomatical and deceitful arts. by which she strove to extend her dominion—is clear from what is said at ch. Revelation 14:8, “She is fallen, Babylon the great, who has made all the heathen drink of the wrath of the wine of her fornication.” The impropriety of comparing the passages in which apostacy from God appears under the figure of fornication, was perceived by Vitringa, who, however, made no farther use of this perception. Babylon still appears standing, and in ch. Revelation 16:9 is called the great. There can be no doubt that an internal connection must subsist between the greatness of the whore and the greatness of Babylon; the rather so, as in ch. Revelation 14:8, the greatness of Babylon is brought into remembrance with her fornication. If the fornication denotes cunning policy, then the being great in that implies being great in general: the great whore is at the same time the great mistress of the world. From the whole connection it turns here, not upon a moral property alone, but also upon the great power which must be brought to an end by the judgment. That the theme here is the judgment of the great whore, implies that her doing, her guilt had already been treated of at length in the preceding portion. The brief indication in ch. Revelation 14:8 is not sufficient, the less so, as there also the guilt was mentioned only in a passing way, as a reason for the threatened punishment. We must therefore seek for the representation of the guilt in ch. 13. There, in Revelation 17:3-8, are described the severe persecutions, which the Roman power, the sixth head of the beast, inflicts on the church. The great whore is only so far different from the sixth head, as this head denotes the Roman power, while the whore is the city of Rome—“the great city, which has dominion over the kings of the earth,” ( Revelation 17:18) in which that power concentrates itself. Substantially, therefore, a report is there given of the misdeeds of Rome.

The whore’s sitting upon the many waters also is presupposed as a thing that must be known from what precedes, and must, therefore, in substance, be contained there. It is enough to compare ch. Revelation 13:3, “and the whole earth wondered after the beast;” Revelation 17:7, “and there was given to it power over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation,” Revelation 17:12-16. From Revelation 17:15 it seems impossible to doubt, that many waters, when used without anything additional, is equivalent to many peoples. It is said there, “the waters, which thon sawest, where the whore sits, are peoples and multitudes, and nations and tongues.” But in opposition to this view a twofold consideration presents itself. First, that the figure can scarcely be justified as characteristic. Bengel, indeed, remarks, “There is a great similarity when a great multitude of people is represented by many waters. Great waters have something powerful in them, and make a mighty noise; as do also many people when they are assembled together. At annual fairs, in loyal acclaims, and on other occasions, when multitudes raise their voices together, they then become like resounding waters.” But the words marked in italics show that Bengel must first have thrown out of view the point of comparison. The many waters might also have been at rest. The second consideration is this, that waters elsewhere, in the symbolical language of Scripture, are an image of prosperity, of a happy and flourishing condition—so for example, Hosea 13:15, “it dries up his spring and desiccates his brook, he (the enemy) plunders his treasure, all glorious possessions.” (See my Comm. on Psalms 107:33-34). That it is used specially in this sense in the Revelation, comp. on ch. Revelation 8:10, Revelation 16:4, and in the Old Testament in regard to ancient Babylon; so, in particular, in the properly fundamental passage, Jeremiah 51:13, “Thou who dwellest beside many waters art rich in treasures,” where the second part of the verse is an explanation of the first, and forms the foundation of Babylon’s natural fulness of water. So, too, Jeremiah 50:38, “Drought upon her waters, that they dry up,” which is immediately preceded by the words, “Sword upon her treasures, and they are plundered.” Isaiah 44:27, “Who says to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy streams.” Psalms 107:33-34, where it is said, in reference to Babylon, “He changes streams into deserts, and water springs into dry land; a fruitful land into salt-heath, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants,” q. d. he causes the waters of Babylon’s well-being and prosperity to become dry. We may, therefore, suppose, that in the explanation given in Revelation 17:15, the peoples, etc. are brought into view only in respect to the advantage, which they yield to the mistress of the world; and that it is this advantage, which properly is imaged by water; as also Nineveh (in Nahum 2:9, “Nineveh is like a water-pond,”) is compared to a pond of water, merely on account of the advantage which it derived from the concourse of men: the contrast is formed by the plundering in Revelation 17:10. That the sitting here is not equivalent to being enthroned, but to dwelling, according to the Hebrew usage, (comp. ch. Revelation 14:6), appears from the fundamental passage, Jeremiah 51:13. We may explain: upon, or by many waters; either way she appears as the possessor of waters.

When the commerce with kings in Revelation 17:2 is represented as fornication, the point of comparison is the making herself agreeable, showing feigned love for the sake of her own interest—comp. on ch. Revelation 14:8. Rome, according to Revelation 17:1, is “the great whore,” that allures the kings into this commerce, as it is said of Tyre in Isaiah 23:17, “She commits fornication with all the kingdoms of the earth;” but the behaviour of the kings themselves is also of a whorish nature. Rome whores with the kings, in order to bring them under her dominion; the kings whore with Rome, making hypo-critical professions of their love and devotedness, in order to find their servitude tolerable.

That the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk by the wine of her fornication, indicates, that she had rendered the whole world helpless and miserable by her artful policy, and had laid it at her feet; comp. on ch. Revelation 14:8.

Verse 3

Revelation 17:3. And he brought me into a wilderness in the Spirit. And 1 saw a woman sitting on a scarlet coloured beast, that was full of names [Note: γέμον ὀ?νόματα . In the Rev. also, γέ?μω is usually construed with the genitive. In the Hebr. constr. here, and in Revelation 17:4, with the accusative, the copyists lost themselves. (In Revelation 17:4 the Hebr. and Greek construction are combined together.) Hence the different readings.] of blasphemy, and had seven heads and ten horns.

That the wilderness is an image of the state into which the woman was to be brought, is plain from the explanation in Revelation 17:16; comp. Revelation 18:2; Revelation 18:16. Then, the corresponding expression, the judgment (of condemnation) in Revelation 17:1; the theatre merely points to the judging, the rest is represented by the subject of the judgment. So that if we do not refer the words “into a wilderness” to the approaching desolation, the promise of the angel to shew the (condemnatory) judgment of the great whore would remain unfilfilled. We are led to the same result by the contrast of the great and high mountain in ch. Revelation 21:10. And, finally, all doubt is removed by the fundamental passages of the Old Testament In Jeremiah 50, 51 the threatening constantly returns, that ancient Babylon should be turned into a wilderness. In Isaiah 21:1, Babylon, on account of the approaching desolation, is called the desert of the sea. (See Christology II. p. 98). What is said here of Babylon, holds substantially in respect to every worldly power that is opposed to God, and treads in her footsteps. Continually is the church called anew to stand unmoved amid the proud triumphs of that power, and allow herself to be carried by the Spirit into the wilderness, to see there with the eye of the Spirit the ruin that lies hidden behind the greatness.

In regard to being in the Spirit, comp. on ch. Revelation 4:2.

That the subject is not the woman, but a woman, not the beast, but a beast, is to be explained on the ground, that the Seer describes what he saw. It is otherwise in Revelation 17:1. There the subject of discourse is the great whore. It is a strange question to put, whether the beast here is identical with that in Revelation 13:1. It proceeds from entirely overlooking the relation of the two groups to each other. The allusion to ch. 13, which one misses, is only formally wanting, as appears from the reasons already mentioned. The beast is here indicated in a quite cursory manner, and in terms that bespeak the closest connexion with ch. 13; so that we are thence to borrow what is needed. This close interconnexion supplies the place of a distinct allusion. Here the Seer has not to do with the beast, but with the woman, who sits upon the beast, and indeed more especially with the judgment that is to be passed upon her.

The woman’s sitting upon the beast brings those who have taken up a false view of the beast, into no small perplexity. If we understand by the beast heathen Rome, or if we understand by it the papacy, the sitting of the woman on the beast cannot be explained but with the greatest arbitrariness. If, with Bossuet, who follows the former of these views, we identify the beast and the woman (“St John clearly explains that the beast and the woman are at bottom but the same thing, and that both the one and the other is Rome with its empire”)—a supposition that in itself alone is extremely violent—how then can the woman sit upon the beast? Bengel, who adopted the second explanation, understands by the woman the city Rome, which will free itself from the dominion of the Pope. But, apart from all the other considerations which oppose this interpretation, at the moment, when Rome vindicates her freedom from the Papal dominion, she ceases to be the great whore in the sense of Bengel. On the other hand, if the beast is the ungodly power of the world in general, it was quite natural, that Rome, the possessor of that at the time of the prophet, should appear sitting on the beast.

The woman sits upon a scarlet coloured beast. As a moral qualification is denoted by the beast, godlessness (ch. Revelation 13:1), it is most natural to regard the epithet also as indicative of a moral quality; the more so as the mention of names of blasphemy immediately follows. Scarlet colour is employed as being the colour of blood. It is used so in Isaiah 1:18, and also in the symbolism of the law. (See my Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 182). With the godlessness hatred toward true piety goes hand in hand. To the scarlet coloured beast the red dragon in ch. Revelation 12:3 corresponds. In this chapter we have a correspondence in Revelation 17:6, where the prophet sees the woman drunk with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus, (comp. ch. Revelation 13:7; Revelation 13:10; Revelation 13:15). In opposition to those, who with an appeal to Revelation 17:4 would understand the scarlet coloured of the royal pomp and glory, there is this farther consideration. that here the beast itself is described as scarlet coloured, whereas in Revelation 17:4 the apparel is spoken of. This plainly implies, that by the scarlet coloured here a quality is denoted, a blood-thirsty disposition, and not a property.

In regard to the names of blasphemy, names by which the glory is usurped that belongs to God and his Son, see on ch. Revelation 13:1.

Verse 4

Revelation 17:4. And the woman was clothed with purple, [Note: Comp. with the ἦ?ν περιβεβλημένη πορφυροῦ?ν , John 19:2: καὶ? ἱ?μάτιον πορφυροῦ?ν περιέβαλον αὐ?τὸ?ν , while Matt. in ch. 27:28 has: περιέθηκαν αὐ?τῷ? χλαμύδα κοκκίνην .] and scarlet colour, and gilded with gold and precious stones and pearls, and had a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations, and of the filthinesses [Note: τὰ? ἀ?κάθαρτα , the accus. after the Heb. idiom, in order to avoid the threefold genitive.] of her fornication. The apparel and the adorning of the woman is significant of the rich and proud pomp of a sovereign, comp. ch. Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16, and Ezekiel 28:13, where Tyre is radiant with gold and gems. In regard to the golden cup, comp. at ch. Revelation 14:8, and the fundamental passage quoted there, Jeremiah 51:7, “The golden cup of Babylon is in the hand of the Lord,” etc. From this passage, and from the standing use of the figure of the cup, (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:8) the cup can only be filled with what renders those, to whom it is given, helpless. The abominations and impurities are the wine of the cup. The point of comparison is the overpowering, the casting to the ground, the reducing to a state of impotence. Hence, we cannot think of the abominations of idolatry, but only of political enormities. The additional expression, “of her fornication,” might hold either way. But fornication can only mean love-feigning policy, according to the usage of the Revelation. The abominations and filthinesses, therefore, are the shameful transactions of that artful policy, by which Nome reduced the nations to a state of utter impotence. [Note: The word βδέ?λυγμα is used of all actions of a shocking nature in Leviticus 18:27; comp. Luke 16:15, ὅ?τι τὸ? ἐ?ν ἀ?νθρώποις ὑ?ψηλὸ?ν βδέλυγμα ἐ?νώπιον τοῦ? θεοῦ? ; in this book, ch. 21:27, καὶ? οὐ? μὴ? εἰ?σέλθῃ? εἰ?ς αὐ?τὴ?ν πᾶ?ν κοινὸ?ν καὶ? ποιῶ?ν βδέλυγμα καὶ? ψεῦ?δος .] That the cup is golden points, in accordance with what precedes, to the glory of the person who has it, and who presents it to the nations, that they may drink of it.

Verse 5

Revelation 17:5. And on her forehead a name written: mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, and of the abominations of the earth. The name, which she has written on her forehead, is not a title, which she takes to herself, but the expression of her nature. The name consists of a whole sentence, and substantially, though not formally, Revelation 17:6 also belongs to it.

On mystery, secret, see at ch. Revelation 1:20, Revelation 10:7. It was there shewn that the notion of mystery is that of a matter lying absolutely beyond the reach of the common, the natural understanding. In what respects, then, was Babylon a mystery? It was so precisely by its greatness, as still continuing after the appearance of Christ, and also pressing with frightful weight upon his confessors; comp. with Revelation 17:6, which stands in close connection with the one before us. The secret is told, Revelation 17:7, or discovered, through the announcement, that this greatness is not, as the natural mind fondly imagines, an abiding one; but is destined to an entire destruction. To the secret here corresponds the great wondering of the seer in Revelation 17:6. An end comes at the same time to the mystery and the wondering. The conflict, which the “mystery” of the prosperity of the wicked awakens in the souls of believers, is most vividly portrayed in Psalms 73. The victory and the unveiling of the mystery is attained there, by the Psalmist recovering himself from his error, and going into the sanctuary of God, where alone an insight can be obtained into the secrets, with which the natural understanding labours in vain, ( Psalms 73:16-17). The solution of the mystery there, too, is found by “marking their end.” According to the common supposition, the word mystery points, it is thought, to the circumstance, that by Babylon is meant, not the ancient city bearing that name, but Rome. This, however, would be no mystery in the Scripture sense; it is at most but an enigma, and no longer even that, after the composition of the first epistle of Peter.

The predicate of Babylon the great, refers to “the wide circumference of the city,” only in so far as that represented the vast extent of her territory. Thus it appears, that “the great,” and the mother of harlots,” etc., are very closely connected together, and that we are not, with Bengel, to make out the relation thus: “ beside her greatness, she is also called, on account of her internal spiritual constitution, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”

The mother of harlots, as much as the great whore in Revelation 17:1; the arch-harlot, she who practises through the widest bounds, a policy the most cunning and destructive to the nations. All, who practise the same within narrower bounds, are, as it were, her daughters. The abominations here also can only be political enormities. Under these are comprehended what she did against the church. For, the root of her conduct in that respect was not false religious zeal, but despotism. In Revelation 17:6, this is still more explicitly brought out.

Verse 6

Revelation 17:6. And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And I wondered very much when I saw her. The witnesses of Jesus, according to ch. Revelation 11:3, where the Lord speaks of his witnesses, are not those, who testify of Jesus, but those who belong to him, as also the testimony of Jesus is always the testimony which belongs to him, (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9, Revelation 6:9). We can suppose, that the witnesses of Jesus are not personally different from the saints, but that only by means of a rise that quality in the slain is brought out to view, which makes the mystery still more impenetrable, still heightens the guilt of Rome. They had been killed in their very service—not in spite of, but on account of their confession. How is it possible that God could look quietly on at this? But we may also suppose that the witnesses of Jesus are the more prominent part of the whole—not those, who generally delivered a good confession, but such as in the strictest sense filled the office of witnessing, the witnesses by profession. It is in favour of this latter view, that in ch. Revelation 18:21, as here the saints and the witnesses of Jesus, so there the prophets and the saints are connected together; that in ch. Revelation 19:10, “to have the testimony of Jesus,” is explained by “having the spirit of prophecy;”that also in ch. Revelation 11:3, the two witnesses step forth at once in the act of prophesying, not representing Christians generally, but the teaching office; and, finally, that in ch. Revelation 11:18, and the other passages quoted in our exposition there, Christians are divided into two classes, prophets and saints, the great and the small. The first place among the witnesses, according to ch. Revelation 18:20, is held by the apostles.

The wondering of John corresponds on the one side to the designation of Babylon as a mystery in Revelation 17:5, as quite manifestly appears from Revelation 17:7, “wherefore wonderest thou? I will shew thee the mystery.” Accordingly, the mystery of the woman must be the object of wonder. If it should continue to abide in its greatness notwithstanding its fearful guilt, only this could be an object of wonder to the Seer. On the other side, there is a manifest correspondence between the wonder of the Seer, and the wonder of those whose names are not written in the book of life, mentioned in Revelation 17:8. Now, if the object of wondering to the latter is the power of the beast, that seemed to remain still unimpaired after Christ, we shall not be warranted in inferring from the wonder of the Seer, that he did not know what to make of the woman (Züllig, “the prophet’s perplexity, who knew not what it meant”). Ch. Revelation 13:3 is also to be compared, “And I saw one of his heads as slain to death, and the stroke of his death was healed. And the whole earth wondered after the beast.” The object there of the astonished wondering is the heathen, and specially the Roman power appearing still unbroken after Christ had come. Bengel: “John nowhere else speaks of himself as being seized with wonder, excepting that he calls the seven angels with the seven last plagues a wonderful sign. There must, therefore, have been something singularly fitted to astonish about the woman.” That description of the angels with the seven vials, as a sign great and wonderful, stands in a certain correspondence with the wondering of John upon the woman. The judgment on the beast, the whore, is, as it were, the counter-wonder to the beast, the whore herself.

Verse 7

Revelation 17:7. And the angel spake to me, wherefore dost thon wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman and of the beast, that bears her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The question, wherefore wonderest thou? corresponds to that, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” ( Matthew 14:31). It is the accusation against human nature in John, which is always rivetted to the visible. John would not have wondered if his mind had been alive to the sayings, “How are they brought to desolation as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors;” tolluntur in altum ut lapsu graviore ruant. Such sayings are indeed easily spoken, when the overthrow of the gigantic mischief has already been accomplished, but by no means so, when its power still exists in undiminished force. The wherefore shews, that the wondering is a groundless, or foolish one. It is said of Jesus in Mark 6:6, “And he wondered because of their unbelief.” That wondering of Jesus corresponds to the wondering here. [Note: The rare θαυμαζειν διὰ? τι also in John 7:21.]

The mystery of the whore is, that she is made desolate; the mystery of the beast, that it goes into perdition. The mystery of the beast is indicated here rather than fully disclosed (this being reserved for ch. Revelation 19:20, where the beast is represented as being cast into the lake of fire); it is unfolded only in so far as is necessary, to set in its proper connection what is said of the whore. According to ch. Revelation 17:1, we have properly to do only with the judgment on the great whore. In this judgment the whole runs out. What is said in Revelation 17:10-11, of the destruction of the beast generally, serves only to give a brief survey of the whole circumstances. That the chief object is the judgment on the whore, is clear alone from this, that the beast is mentioned only in the second place. The subject of the whore is immediately and wholly disposed of; but in regard to the further treatment of the beast, a general sketch merely is given, which is afterwards completed

The subject of the beast is handled in Revelation 17:8, of his seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, of his ten horns in Revelation 17:12-14, of the whore in Revelation 17:15-18, which verses shew, that what is said of the beast, was necessary as a foundation for that which was to be said of the woman. That the chief subject is discussed in Revelation 17:15-18, is expressly indicated by the new beginning. (“And he spake to me.”)

Verse 8

Revelation 17:8. The beast which thou sawest, was and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss, and go into perdition; and they that dwell upon the earth shall wonder, whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that it was, and is not, and again shall be present. The beast was, it held its being upon earth, so long as the dominion of Satan as the prince of this world was unbroken. By what his not being was accomplished, appears from ch. Revelation 13:3, “And I saw one of his heads as killed to death.” As the deadly wound there, so here the corresponding not being must have its ground in the atonement of Christ. Further, if it is Christ who puts an end to the beast’s coming again out of the abyss and his resumed existence on the earth (comp. Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:11, ss., especially Revelation 19:20), in him also must its not being have its cause. The not being is also to be regarded as continuing during the coming again and renewed being. This appears from Revelation 17:11, where the whole duration of the beast is denoted by the two stages of having been and of not being.

On the abyss, that is, hell, see on ch. Revelation 9:1. Mention was already made in ch. Revelation 11:7, of the beast’s ascending from thence, “the beast, that ascendeth out of the abyss shall make war on them.” See on the ascending at ch. Revelation 13:1. That the “it shall (is going to) ascend,” and the corresponding, “it shall again be,” had a foundation in the present, and that an increase only belongs to the future, is manifest from all that was said regarding the time of the composition of the Apocalypse, as one in which there was an organized bloody persecution against the Christians. An absolute future cannot be intended, otherwise John would not have been on the island of Patmos. How little the future excludes the present, is shown by the “shall worship,” in ch. Revelation 13:8, compared with “they wondered,” in Revelation 17:3. Compare also on the words, “was and is not, and shall ascend out of hell,” the remarks already made at p. 81. Perdition is used here of perdition in the full sense, the perdition of hell. The beast goes to “its own place;” what comes out of hell, goes to hell. Of the perdition of hell, perdition is also used in John 17:12, where Judas is called the son of perdition, corresponding to the child of hell in Matthew 23:15, and it is also found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:9. We have a commentary in ch. Revelation 19:20, “they were both cast alive into the lake of fire, that burneth with fire and brimstone.” It is plain, from Revelation 17:11, that the perdition of hell is meant. (The reading ὑ?πά?γει for ὑ?πά?γειν is from Revelation 17:11).

On the words, “and they shall wonder—from the foundation of the world,” comp. ch. Revelation 13:8, “And all shall worship it that dwell on the earth, whose names are not written in the book of life, of the Lamb that was slain, from the foundation of the world.” [Note: Here there is omitted merely the τοῦ? ἀ?ρνί?ου τοῦ? ἐ?σφαγμέ?νου . There it is ἐ?ν τῳ?͂? βιβλί?ῳ?, here ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? βιβλί?ον . These other deviations should lead us to prefer also the reading ὀ?νό?ματα . The τὸ? ὀ?́?νομα , which certainly has important authorities on its side has probably flowed from the parallel passage.] Bengel remarks, “At both places the highest thought, that, namely, of election, is brought in to meet the great temptation.”

As the second, was and is not, corresponds to the first, so the and shall again be present, corresponds to, shall ascend out of the abyss. It is not said, shall be, but, shall be present (da seyn wird). [Note: Bengel: ad ἠ?͂?ν καὶ? ού?κ ἐ?́?στι , καὶ? πά?ρεσται aptissime adsonat, et minus quiddam dicit, quam si diceretur καὶ? ἐ?́?ρχεται vel καὶ? ἐ?σταί? .] The wound was an absolutely mortal one, as will be shewn by the end. It comes again out of the abyss, from which it derives, as it were, its last power, but only as a kind of spectre.

The emphasis rests on the expression, again shall be present, q.d., when they see, that the beast, which was and is not, again shall be there. The reading καί?περ ἐ?στί?ν , “although it still is,” which Luther follows, is to be rejected. It gives, properly, no right sense. By it the wondering must turn upon the not being; for the being would only be incidentally noticed; although it is, cannot signify as much as, and still is. But ch. Revelation 13:4 is against it, as there only a wondering of astonishment can be meant, such gaping admiration as a lost world feels toward the beast. So also here, Revelation 17:6, by which the wondering can only refer to the power of the beast. And, lastly, the correspondence between the again shall be present,” and “shall ascend,” is decisive against this reading, which is at any rate badly supported, and on external grounds also is deserving of rejection. [Note: Add to this still, that to the fut. πά?ρεσταὶ? the fut. θαυμά?σονται corresponds, then the μέ?λλει ἀ?ναβαί?νειν . Farther, that the καί?περ never occurs elsewhere in the Apocalypse, and that, where it does occur in the N. T. and in classical Greek, it is coupled with the part. not with the verb fin.: (See Bleek on Hebrews 5:8.)

The reading of several MSS. καὶ? πά?ρεστιν is only another attempt to get rid of the difficulty arising from this that the Seer, writing from his own standing point, uses the fut.: when they see that it again shall be present, for, shall see, that it again is present.]

Verse 9

Revelation 17:9. Here belongs the understanding, that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, and are seven kings. The here belongs is properly here is, meaning that wisdom here has its right place, and intimating that a problem is presented here, which it is the province of the more profound spiritual insight to handle; comp. on ch. Revelation 13:18. That the mountains are to be understood spiritually is evident alone from ch. Revelation 13:3, where it is said that one of the heads was killed to death, which does not suit a natural mountain (as the seven hills of Rome, of which so many expositors think here). Then Revelation 17:3 is to be compared, in which the woman is described as sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast. To this manifestly corresponds the sitting on the mountains here. If by the first Rome is denoted, as the holder of the world’s power, then the sitting upon the mountains will also have the same meaning. In the symbolical language of Scripture, and especially of the Revelation, mountains signify kingdoms. That they have this signification also here, is plain from the term “seven kings,” or kingdoms, added by way of explanation. The seven phases of the ungodly power of the world were definitely marked at ch. Revelation 13:1. And from the remarks already made, the seven hills of Rome could only be pointed to as a symbol of the seven-formed worldly power.

That the kings here are not individuals, but ideal persons, personified kingdoms, is clear alone from the corresponding expression: mountains. For these denote, not single rulers, but kingdoms. In Revelation 17:12 also kings stand for kingdoms. That the heads of the beast here are called kings is decisive against the opinion which considers the beast to be the papacy. The horns, likewise expressly mentioned, must, according to Bengel, be “worldly kings,” while he would regard the heads as “seven diverse popes succeeding each other;” though it is quite clear, that if in the former case worldly kingdoms or monarchies are spoken of, it must be these also in the latter.

Verse 10

Revelation 17:10. Five are fallen, one is, the other is still not come, and when he comes, he must abide a short time. Of the seven kings mentioned Jive belong to the period already past; and of the two others one appeared at the time then present on the stage of history, and the other had still not entered on it. The falling denotes the overthrow of the kingdoms; comp. ch. Revelation 18:2, “She is fallen, she is fallen, Babylon the great,” ch. Revelation 14:8. The five kings or worldly kingdoms that had already fallen at the time of the Seer, are the kings of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece. The one that is, accordingly, must be the sixth great monarchy, the Roman, for it was this which was in existence at the time of the Seer. The being denotes here, not being simply by itself, but only in contrast to the being fallen, the being as king. Otherwise, a contradiction would be presented to Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11, where the not being of the beast is affirmed. With the beast the power also of this sixth head is broken. It was precisely this sixth head which received the deadly wound. Bengel: “This one king, however impotent he may be, is still not off the stage. If he indeed were not, the continued duration of the beast, from his ascending out of the sea to his precipitation into the lake of fire, would thereby be interrupted. The beast is no longer what it was, but it has still not gone into destruction. The one king does not stand as the five preceding kings stood before their fall; he is, as he even now can be, in the non esse of the beast, which was represented before.” The Lord said, “I have overcome the world.” In that lies the foundation of the difference between the one and the five.

When the other is come, then the sixth falls, that is now the king of Rome. But from the statement made respecting the seventh, that he shall abide but a short time, we infer, that with the one then being it was likely to continue still a pretty long time, and that by means of it the church should be for a considerable period exercised in patience.

That the kings are ideal persons, there can for this reason be no doubt, that the seventh king is represented here in Revelation 17:12 as a compound of ten kings. He has not yet come, because his time has not yet arrived, ( John 7:8; comp. 7:6, 8:20). When it is said that he shall remain only a short time, the subject is not the continuance of the seventh generally, but the duration of the seventh power as a God-opposing one. To the declaration here, “he must abide a short time,” corresponds in Revelation 17:12 the statement,” as kings they receive power one hour with the beast.” How an end is put to his abiding is represented in ch Revelation 19:11, ss.

Verse 11

Revelation 17:11 . And the beast, which was and is not, he is an eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition. The words, “which was and is not,” do not serve as a personal designation, but form the basis of that which was to be declared in respect to the destiny of the beast. If it has received its death-blow from the atonement of Christ, if its existence from that time is only an apparent one—if, with all its swaggering, it is but a bloodless spectre—its end can only be palpable destruction.

The destruction of the beast, with all that belongs to it, is the proper theme of the whole group. It was only destruction that was spoken of in what immediately precedes: fire have already fallen; the one that is, must fall; the seventh, that had not yet come, is to continue but a short time. So that at the words, “is an eighth,” there naturally suggests itself to be supplied, “in destruction.”

If there stood merely, “he is of the seven,” it would be natural to suppose, that he personally belonged to the seven, ( Acts 21:8); as it is decidedly against the manner of the Revelation of John, to put forth enigmas for the solution of which it does not itself provide the means, and to leave space to uncertain conjecture. But as the words “is an eighth” precede, the relation to the seventh is withdrawn from the personal sphere, and by the connection limited to the manners or the issue. In the present case it must be the latter, as in what precedes all has respect to the destruction of the parties in question. But every doubt is removed by the appended statement, “and goes into perdition,” q.d., and like the seven, or with the seven, the beast goes also into perdition. With the seventh phase of the ungodly power of the world itself also ceases, the heathen state generally comes to an end.

We have a commentary on what is meant here in ch. Revelation 19:11-21. There the conflict of the seventh head or king against the kingdom of God is delineated. In this conflict, according to Revelation 19:20-21, the beast also is comprehended, and is cast into the lake of fire (corresponding to the perdition), whereas before the beast survived its particular heads, and soon appeared again on the stage of conflict with a new head.

From the interpretation now given every thing in this verse refers to the destruction of the beast. The current exposition is quite different. It finds the announcement here, that after the seven heads of the beast the personal antichrist shall appear. But the following reasons oppose this view. If the beast were a proper independent power, along with and after the seven heads, then, what was to be said on it, would not belong to this portion, where the author is dealing merely with the seven heads. At all events, it must still he made the subject of discourse elsewhere in its proper place. Further, if it is certain that Revelation 17:9-11 treat of the heads of the beast, this verse cannot contain anything properly new; it can only bring clearly and distinctly out, what had already been indirectly contained in the preceding part. If the heads of the beast are only seven, then it is self-evident, that with the seventh head the beast itself goes to destruction. For, without a head the beast can have no existence. Then, those who understand antichrist here by the beast, fall into either of two equally untenable suppositions. One party, with Vitringa at their head, feign an eighth head, without any foundation for it in the text, and against the express limitation of the heads to the number seven. How should it be possible, that exactly the mightiest and most frightful head in the whole assemblage of heads should have been omitted (The other party have Bengel on their side, who remarks, “The beast consists, as it were, of eight pieces. The seven heads are for themselves, and the eighth piece is the corpus, or the whole body, and, therefore, the beast itself (ch. Revelation 11:7) with his feet, mouth, etc.” But the beast cannot be thought of as existing without its head. The mouth belongs to the head, as that with which it blasphemes, the teeth as that with which it tears. As formerly the heads were not without the body, so now the body cannot be without the head. At any rate it would be, not an increase to the frightfulness, but a diminution of it. Bengel himself felt this, and in a very artificial way sought still to vindicate for the eighth a head, the seventh, though after every effort it always remains, that by it the body of the beast is denoted as the beast in contradistinction from the heads. This, too, decides against the interpretation respecting the antichrist, that what was above all to be said of him, his horrid and savage procedure, his “fathomless wickedness and power,” must be added by these expositors at their own hand. Bengel’s soul was conscious of this. He says, “One might suppose, that in this prophecy there is scarcely enough said of the things, which this adversary will do.” He thinks the mere indication enough, as elsewhere this doing was described at sufficient length. But it has already been shewn, (p. 87), that the New Testament elsewhere also knows nothing of a personal antichrist. Finally, the words, “and goes into perdition,” resume with intentional literality the “and go into perdition” in Revelation 17:8. Now, if the beast there is the whole of the worldly power as opposed to God, it cannot denote antichrist here as an individual. The identity with Revelation 17:8 is clear from the “was and is not,” which itself also does not suit a personal antichrist. For such had not been before.

Verse 12

Revelation 17:12. And the ten horns, which thou sawest, are ten kings, which have not as yet received kingdoms; but they shall receive power as kings one hour with the beast. The angel turns now from the heads to the horns. The beast, according to Revelation 17:7, has ten horns. It would be a monster if it had these in any other place than where all beasts have them, where the Lamb also has them, according to ch. Revelation 5:6, on the head. But if they could exist only on one of the heads, it is impossible to think of any but the seventh. For this is what was spoken of in the preceding context, at the close of Revelation 17:10, and also in Revelation 17:11. We are led also to the same result by comparing the words, “which have not as yet received a kingdom,” with those in Revelation 17:10, “the other is not yet come;” also by comparing the “one hour” here, with “the must abide a short time” there. See the proof for the horns being held to be on the seventh head at p. 77. The seventh phase of the ungodly power of the world, which is denoted by the ten horns on the seventh head, is to be a divided one, in contradistinction to all the earlier ones, in contradistinction especially to the sixth, the Roman—as a proof, that the Revelation is really what its name imports, and did not owe its origin to a conjecture formed after the analogies of the past.

The horns, it is said, are kings. That we are not to think of individual kings, is plain from the whole character of the Apocalypse, which never has to do with single human individuals, but everywhere represents the future only in its most general features. The designation by horns alone leads not to individuals, but to powers. For the horn is the symbol of power, victorious strength—comp. on ch. Revelation 5:6, Revelation 13:1. Further, in the fundamental passage of Daniel, in Daniel 7, the ten horns are the ten kingdoms, into which the fourth great monarchy, the Roman, was to fall. [Note: What comes out of the interpretation, that finds the papacy here, may be gathered from this, that Vitringa on that ground denies the correspondence between the ten horns here and the ten horns in Daniel, ch. 7.

See on this correspondence at ch. 13:2.] So also in Daniel 8:8, Zechariah 2:1, powers, or monarchies are denoted by horns. Revelation 17:9 here shews, that we are not to think of individual kings. And if kings are kingdoms there, they most also have the same signification here. [Note: Vitringa mentions, that the sense of kingdoms is the natural and obvious one: “no one could expect, that single kingdoms of various nations should arise in the world, should set up each single kings, and after these should immediately go to ruin.”] The number ten of kings or kingdoms as a round one itself shews, that there were not to be quite exactly and definitely ten, but that it is enough, if the different possible reckonings move somewhere about that number. Matters stand otherwise with the horns than with the heads. The heads denote world-monarchies, of which there was always but one at a time on the theatre. If the numbering is such as to admit of no license, then the whole number must necessarily be a determinate one. But, in opposition to this, the horns denote a constellation of powers, existing independently beside each other. And since it must be doubtful in regard to individuals, whether their independence was so complete, their importance so great, as that they should have a place assigned them in the series, the boundaries must be of a somewhat fluctuating nature. [Note: The ten horns and kingdoms were explained with substantial correctuess by Berengaudus in the 9th century, Expos. in Apoc. in the works of Ambros, T. vii. Ed. Yen. 1781, p. 834: Quatuor bestiae Danieli in visione demonstratae sunt, per quas quatuor regna figurabantur: quarta autem bestia, quae erat fortis atque terribilis, per quam Romani designati sunt, decem cornua habuisse describitur, per quae en regna, quae Romanum imperium destruxerunt, designata sunt. Eandem itaque significationem habent decem cornua in hoc loco; significant quippe ea regna, per quae imperium Romanum destrurtum est. Partem namque Asiae per se (1. Persae) primitus abstulerunt: postea vero Saraceni totam subogerunt: Vandali Africam sibi vindicaverunt, Gothi Hispaniam, Lombardi Italiam, Burgundiones Galliam, Franci Germanism, Hunni Panoniam: Alani autem et Suevi multa loca depopulati sunt, quae eorum subjacebant ditioni. The unsuitable mixture that is found here of the Persians and Saracens, who did not belong with the others to one conjunct state of things, which yet was required by the oneness of the seventh head, has been avoided by Bossuet, who also has some excellent remarks in regard to the number ten: “There appeared much about the same time Vandals, Huns, Franks, Burgundians, Suevi, Alani, Heruli, to whom succeeded Lombards, Germans, Saxons: more than all these the Goths, who were the real destroyers of the empire. We need not torment ourselves about bringing them precisely to the number ten; although it might be possible to reduce them almost to so many fixed kingdoms. But one of the secrets in the interpretation of the prophets, is not to seek after finesse, where it is not to be found, and to lose one’s self in minutiae, when we can see great characteristics, that strike the eye at once.”] The word kingdom is used here in an active sense, of the government, the kingly rule and authority—see on ch. Revelation 16:10. We are not to explain a kingdom, but rather: which had not yet received kingdom or dominion. (The οὐ?́?πω is at any rate the correct explanation of the οὐ?κ , if not the original reading, comp. Revelation 17:10). The matter concerns not a kingdom, but worldly dominion. It concerns not the existence of nations with their respective governments, but this, that they were no longer to come forth as the reigning power on the theatre of the world’s history. Not existence, but reiging power is what first belongs to the future.

The expression, one hour, is explained by the ὀ?λί?γον , a little, short time, in Revelation 17:10. [Note: Against Vitringa’s exposition: at one and the same time (Vulg. una hora) the parallel ὀ?λί?γον αὐ?τὸ?ν δεῖ? μεῖ?ναι is decisive. So also in Revelation 17:14, where the ceasing of the ἐ?ξουσί?α , indicated in the “one hour” is extended. The μίαν ὥ?ραν , one hour long, occurs also in Matthew 26:40, μιᾷ? ὥ?ρᾳ? , in one (single) hour, in ch. 18:10, comp. Revelation 17:8. Πρὸ?ς ὥ?ραν , Galatians 2:5, πρὸ?ς καιρὸ?ν ὥ?ρας , 1 Thessalonians 2:17, correspond.] History delivers for the “one hour,” a remarkable confirmation. The first appearance of the German tribes on the stage of public history almost entirely coincides with the commencement of their conversion to Christianity. But the short continuance is here affirmed, not of the power of the horns or kings generally, but only of their power with the beast. What lies beyond this, does not properly belong to the matter. Since after the overthrow of these kings through Christ (comp. Revelation 17:14 and ch. Revelation 19:11, ss), no new human monarchy is mentioned, since also this overthrow is to be accomplished by no inferior instrumentality (as was the case in all the earlier phases of the worldly power, not excepting the Roman), but only by Christ, and his church, we, therefore, cannot doubt, that on the power, which the ten kings receive with the beast, another will follow, which they shall receive from Christ.

As kings, that reign not merely over their own subjects, but over the world. For the context treats of the dominion of the world; it is with the different phases of this, that the prophecy is occupied. The word, with the beast, is involved in the nature of the subject, and would have to be supplied, if it were not expressed. The character of their dominion, as opposed to God and Christ, is implied above in the circumstance, that they are horns on the head of the beast. The admission of the kings is inseparably connected with the abolition of Rome. But the beast is not affected by this change. As Rome at an earlier period received power with the beast, so now the kings receive the same. It is a change in the phases of the worldly power, while this itself continues for the time unchanged. Those, who understand by the beast heathen Rome, and those likewise who understand by it the papacy, are involved in no small perplexity by the expression here “with the beast,” and also by Revelation 17:13. They suppose, that the ten kings shall hold only at first with the beast (Bossuet, “with Rome which shall not lose all at once her power”), and that they shall afterwards rise up against her. But it is against this view, that in Revelation 17:12-14, the matter of the horns is so far cut off, that in Revelation 17:15-18, where the whore is the subject of discourse, nothing absolutely new can be introduced in regard to the horns, nothing can be brought in, which has not a point of contact with something in the portion preceding Revelation 17:15. But such would be the case if the beast were heathen Rome, or the papacy. Then, here it would be friendship, there quite suddenly and immediately enmity. Not to mention that according to Revelation 17:16, not merely the horns, but also the beast itself, shall hate and persecute the whore, Rome.

Verse 13

Revelation 17:13. These have one mind and give their power and their authority to the beast. The expression, “with the beast,” is enlarged upon and explained. One mind, in reference to what is here under consideration, and which is expressly brought out in the second part of the verse (comp. Revelation 17:17). For, otherwise, the being of one mind is against the nature of evil. Sin is as certainly the mother of division, as selfishness is inherent in its very nature.

If the beast is the God-opposing power of the world, impelled by a thirst of conquest, and a desire of dominion, then in the circumstance of their giving their power and authority with one mind to the beast, the foundation is laid of their unanimity in seeking to destroy Rome. The new possessors of the worldly power could only stand in an attitude of hostility toward its former possessors. But another consequence also springs from it, and one unfolded in what immediately follows—their war against the Lamb.

Verse 14

Revelation 17:14. These shall war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them—for his is a Lord of lords, and a King of kings—and with him the called, and chosen and believing. Our eye rests with deep emotion upon this passage; for it presents an insight into the destiny of our own race, which at the time lay profoundly concealed. The verse has altogether a provisional character. The proper theme here is only the judgment of the whore, and nothing of a particular and definite nature can be introduced respecting the ten kings, excepting what they have to do concerning this judgment. But for the purpose of giving a preliminary glance into what Is coming, there is an indication of the farther doings and fate of the ten kings. The whole of the divine purposes in regard to them must be apprehended, in order that the part taken by them from the first may be seen in its true light. We consider the instruments of the divine wrath with quite another eye, when we know, that they are destined to become vessels of divine grace. The filling up of the outline here is given in ch. Revelation 19:11-21, where the war of the ten kings against Christ, and his victory over them, is particularly described. However, this passage serves also to supplement the other (comp. on ch. Revelation 19:11-21).

The war of the ten kings against Christ manifests itself in their assaults on his church (comp. Acts 9:4-5). It is in accordance with the real nature of things, that Christ should be mentioned as the proper object of the conflict, and as the proper author of the victory. It is only when a superficial view is taken, that the human comes into the fore-ground. But we must not on that account say with Bengel, “The victory belongs alone to the Lamb, and not to his associates. These must only follow, and even if the attack is directed against them, must look on at the victory.” Believers are expressly represented as sharers in the victory, and they must also be regarded as sharers in the conflict; there can be nothing here of a mere looking on; this holds only in regard to such conflicts as the one discoursed of in Revelation 17:16. Among the first witnesses for the war of the ten kings against Christ, which the history of the period presents to us, are the numerous martyrs, who fell among the Goths in the persecution of Athanarich. [Note: August. de civ. de. xviii. 52, Rex Gothorum in ipsa Gothia persecutus est Christianos crudelitate mimabili, quorum plurimi martyrio coronati sunt, sicut a quibusdam fratribus, qui tunc illie pueri fuerant, et se ista vidisae incunetanter recordabantur, audivimns. Orosius L. vii. c. 32: Athanaricus rex Gothorum, Christianos in gente sua crudelissime persecutus, plurimos Barbarorum ob fidem interfectos, ad coronam martyrii sublimavit, quorum tamen plurimi in Romanum solum non trepide velut ad hostes, sed certi, quod ad fratres, pro Christi confessione, fugerunt. See in regard to this persecution, Massmann, Exp. of Ev. John, in the Gothic language. In regard to the terrible persecution of the Christian church by the Vandals in Africa, see Ruinart, Historia persecutionis Vandalicae, Paris, 1694, and Papencordis hist. of the Vandal dominion in Africa. Quadi, Marcomanni, and others, passed the Danube in the 4th century, “spread desolation with fire and sword, broke down churches, scattered about the bones of the saints,” etc. See Kortüm Hist. of middle ages, p. 41. Of the irruption of Radogast, with his 200,000 men into Italy, this author says, “The devastation was frightful; villages, towns, churches, lay in ashes; no sanctuary, no monument of art, could escape the fury of these equally warlike and zealous worshippers of Odin.”] They were followed by a train of others, among whom appears the august form of Boniface.

The Lamb shall overcome them; Berangarius remarks at the beginning of the ninth century, “We know, that these tribes have, with few exceptions, received the yoke of Christ.”Even at the beginning of the fifth century, Orosius says, that in the East and the West the churches of Christ were filled with Huns, Suevi, Vandals, Burgundians, and an incredible number of believers from among other barbarous nations. [Note: B. VII. c. 41: Quanquam si ob hoc solum barbari Romanis finibus immissi forent, quod vulgo per Orientem et Occidentem ecclesiae Christi Hunnis et Suevis, Vandalis et Burgundionibus diversieque et innumeris credentium populis replentur, laudanda et attollenda dei misericordia videretur: quandoquidem, etai cum labefactione nostri, tantae gentes agnitionem veritatis acciperent, quam invenire ntiqne nisi hac occasione non possent.] A rapid survey is given by Kortüm in his history of the middle ages, of the farther progress of Christ’s victory, “After the German-Arian confession had lost all its public importance, by the subjection of the Eastern Goths and Vandals, and the desertion of the Western Goths, Burgundians, and Longobards, the orthodox church attained to a purer form among the Irish, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons, than elsewhere, by the proscription among them of intolerance, the limitation of outward pomp in Divine worship, and the striving towards a cultivated and moral condition, not through fire and sword, but through doctrine and instruction. Persons reared under such principles, possessing a fearless spirit and a quick intelligence, and distinguished by a blameless walk, seldom failed to accomplish the end of their laborious and disinterested missions among rude but vigorous barbarians. This course was followed in the seventh century among the Germans of the high-country, by the Scotch Columba and Gallus, out of whose hermitage arose the monastery that became so active in the interest of Christianity and civilization, among the Bavarians by Emmeran, among the East Franks and Thuringians by Kilian, among the Frisians by Willibrod, among the Hessians by the Anglo-Saxon Winfred (Boniface), who was the centre of the new ecclesiastical direction of the eighth century, for the whole of north Germany. In East France the arch-bishoprick of Mentz (748), whose diocese comprehended Cologne, Strassburg, Worms, Utrecht, and other chapters, the bishopricks of Saltzburg, Regensburg, Passau, Wurzburg, Eichstadt, the monastery of Fulda (since 744), Ohrdruf, and Fritzlar, gave strength and order to the straggling efforts of the missionaries that chiefly came from the Anglo-Saxons, became nurseries of milder manners, and of advancing commerce and knowledge, but, at the same time, props of the state of things that was meanwhile gradually forming by the encroachments of the bishoprick of Rome.”

The words, “King of kings and Lord of lords,” point to the foundation of Christ’s victory. The Lamb conquers because he is the Lord of lords; believers conquer because they are with the Lamb. Allusion is made here, as in ch. Revelation 19:6 (where Christ is called, in reverse order, the King of kings and the Lord of lords), to 1 Timothy 6:14-15, “Till the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom in his times he shall show who is the blessed and only potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.” Intentionally that is here ascribed to Christ, which is there primarily declared of the Father, in accordance with the object of John, always to ascribe to the Son what belongs to the Father. The allusion to that passage in St Paul’s writings can the less be overlooked, as it goes hand in hand with what immediately follows in the passage. Besides, John ascribes to Christ nothing more than what he assumes to himself when he says that all power is committed to him in heaven and on earth ( Matthew 28:18), and promises to be with his people always, even to the end of the world.

The addition, and with the called and chosen and believing (properly, and who are with him, called, etc.), is of great importance. Rome, too, fought with Christ, and was conquered by him; not there, however, are the chosen the instruments, but the ten kings are so, who execute his work without knowing and wishing it. The spiritual conquest of Rome lies beyond the sphere of the Apocalypse. There the word in 1 Corinthians 13:9, “we prophecy in part,” holds with the Seer. The circumstance of the called, etc., being mentioned as the instruments of Christ’s victory, shows that the victory here meant can be no bloody and destroying one, but that it was to be won by properly Christian arms. such as are described by Paul in Ephesians 6:10, ss.

The true members of Christ are described by three marks, the first and the last of a palpable nature, the second hidden, and manifesting itself in the existence of the first and third, so that where these are it cannot fail, nor can it be found where they are wanting. The expressions are rather Paul’s than John’s. [Note: The κλητό?ς nowhere else occurs in the Apoc. nor in the other writings of John; ἐ?κλεκτό?ς occurs only in 2 John 1:13, where it should also be regarded as written large; πιστό?ς in the sense of believing only in John 20:27. That it has here the signification of believing, not faithful (Vitringa), appears from its connection with the two other Pauline terms.] But Paul had rendered them familiar to those for whom John wrote, so that they are here to be regarded as a sort of proper names.

Verse 15

Revelation 17:15. And he says to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. The new addition, “and he says to me,” when viewed in connection with the words in Revelation 17:1, I will shew thee the judgment of the great whore,” shews that the angel here first properly reaches his object; that what in the preceding verses was said of the beast, the heads, and the horns, merely served as a foundation for what was to be said here of the woman, Rome. In regard to the waters, see on Revelation 17:1. It was there shewn that the peoples are brought into view here only in respect to the advantage which they afforded to the mistress of the world, and that it is properly this advantage, which is imaged by the waters. The contrast to the waters, as indicative of the advantage connected with an extensive worldly dominion, is formed by the dry and naked wilderness, and by what is said in Revelation 17:16, that they shall make her desolate, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

The prophet first sees the woman, according to Revelation 17:3, in the wilderness. There too, therefore, must he have seen the waters upon which she still sits—the present is to be carefully marked. But they could only have served as a symbol of her vanished glory, as indeed the sitting of the woman on the beast in Revelation 17:3 also denotes an already vanished condition. The symbolical representation of the former glory makes the wilderness appear all the more dismal.

The question, How can the woman sit at once upon the beast and upon the waters? is to be answered thus, that she simply sits upon the beast upon or by the waters.

The enumeration of the peoples, etc., completes itself in the number four, the signature of the earth. In the parallel passages quoted at ch. Revelation 13:7, in place of the multitudes or masses, which occur only here, we have tribes, once kings; comp. at ch. Revelation 5:9. Here, where only an advantage’ is taken into account connected with dominion, the reference to the masses of the governed is the more suitable.

Verse 16

Revelation 17:16. And the ten horns, which thou sawest, and the beast, [Note: Luther has: the ten horns, which thou sawest upon the beast, after the false reading ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? θηρί?ον , which merely arose from people not knowing how to begin with καὶ? τὸ? θηρί?ον (the reading which is found in all the best authorities), on account of the false idea they had formed of the beast. For the same reason, some MSS. altogether omit the words; Grotius would read καιτὰ? τὸ? θηρί?ον ; and the Coptic version has, quae vidisti cam bestia. Bengel remarks against the reading ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? θηρί?ον : Ipsa phrasis cornua vidisti ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? θηρί?ον hiulca est, et dissimilis phrasibus, quibus nomen in fronte scriptum ac bestia cornua habens dicitur.] these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire. The angel says to John, in Revelation 17:1, “Come, I will shew thee the judgment of the great whore.” This shewing takes place even in Revelation 17:3. The angel conducts John in spirit into the wilderness, and lets him there see the woman. Here the meaning of what is shewn to John and seen by him, is disclosed. Here, therefore, the future is introduced. For, as to its import what was now seen as present belonged to the future. The ten horns are known to us already from the preceding verses, as the new holders of the worldly power. Here, where the angel arrives at the proper theme, the judgment of the woman, it is expressly declared, what in the preceding portion had been already indicated, that the horns shall put an end to the woman. The ten horns sit upon the seventh head. It is thereby intimated, that the new holders of the ungodly power of the world, with all their independence and self-sufficiency, are still bound to each other by a certain unity. We must not, therefore, draw into the number the Parthians or the Mahommedans, which has also against it Revelation 17:14; but must only think of nations of the Germanic race, and such as were immediately conjoined with them.

On the expression. and the beast, comp. in Revelation 17:12 with the beast, according to which all the undertakings of the ten kings are placed under the auspices of the beast.

The οὑ?͂?τοι , these, is employed with as much emphasis as the he in Revelation 17:11. It is designed to direct attention to those, who were destined by God to avenge the poor cause of Christ upon the persecutor Rome.

The whore here represents not the city Rome as opposed to the kingdom, but the city as the mistress and centre of the kingdom, so that every assault, which is directed against the land, is also directed against it; every injury which affects the kingdom, also affects it. [Note: This, the only correct meaning, is found even in Berengaudus, when he remarks on the burning of her with fire: Scimus plurimas civitates, vicos et castella, quae Romano imperio subjacebant, ab hia gentibus fuisse concremata.]

They shall make her bare or naked, while before she had been arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bespangled with gold and gems and pearls, sitting upon her throne.

The flesh in the plural. Bengel gives the meaning correctly: “her much flesh.” By the flesh is denoted the material power and the kingdom. The powerful and rich evil-doer appears even in the Old Testament as thick and fat—comp. for example Psalms 73:4; Psalms 73:7.

Nothing occurs, which does not suit the symbol of the woman; nothing that constrains us to go back immediately to the subject denoted by it. [Note: As Züllig, for example remarks, They shall hate her—the whore, and shall make waste her—the city, and make her—the woman, naked, and shall burn with fire her—the city.] The being made desolate or waste not unfrequently occurs also of persons, since these are represented under the image of a city prostrated by enemies, or of a devastated country. So in Judges 5:27; Psalms 17:9; Sir_16:4 . Accordingly we should refer also the words: and shall burn her with fire, not primarily to the city, but to the woman, of whom it is also spoken in ch. Revelation 18:8. The fire is here, according to ch. Revelation 8:7, not so properly material fire, as the fire of war. [Note: How the representation in the verse passed into fulfilment, may be learned from the following declarations of those, who lived at the time of the fulfilment. Jerome Says, in his ep. 123 ad Ageruchiam: Praesentium miseriarum pauca percurram. Quod rari hucusque residemus, non nostri meriti, sed domini misericordiae est. Innumerabiles et ferocissimae nationes universae Gallias occuparunt. Quidquid inter Alpes et Pyrenaenm est, quod Oceano et Rheno includitur, Quadus, Vandalus, Sarmata, Halani, Gipedes, Heruli, Saxones, Burgundiones, Aleminini et, O lugenda republica, hostes Pannonii vastarunt. He says also of the taking of Rome by Alaric in ep. 127 ad Principiam: Capitur urbs quae totum cepit orbem, imo fame perit antequam gladio, et vix pauci qui caperentur inventi sunt. Ad nefandos cibos erupit esurientium rabies, et sua invicem membra laniarunt, dum mater not parcit lactenti infantiae, et recipit utero, quem paulo ante effuderat. See also his introd. to his Comm. on Ezekiel and at the commencement of the seventh book for his lamentation on the destruction of Rome. Salvian says, De gubernatione dei B. VI. p. 115: Arsimus, arsimus, et tamen flammas, quibus jam arsimus, non timemus. P. 129: Ubi namque sunt antiquae Romanorum opes atque dignitates? Fortissimi quondam Romani erant, nunc sine viribus. Timebantur Romani veteres, nos timemus. Vectigalia illis solvebant populi Barba-rorum, nos vectigales Barbaris sumus. Vondunt nobis hostes lucis usuram. Tota admodum salus nostra commericum est. B VII. p. 143: Quid enim vel de nobis vel de Gothis ac Vandidis deus judicet, res probat. Illi crescunt quotidie, nos decrescimus; illi proficiunt, nos lumiliamur; illi florent, et nos arescimus, etc.]

Verse 17

Revelation 17:17. For God has given it to (heir hearts, to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, till the words of God shall be fulfilled. Before his mind, we are to suppose a dash to be placed. They appear to accomplish their own mind. The reference to this mind or purpose of their own, on the part of the kings and the beast, and the respect to the second mind, has effected, that here the subject of discourse is God’s mind—which of itself sounds somewhat strange—instead of his purpose. (See also in Ezra 6:14 for an example of the mind of God standing in immediate connection with the mind of man). Some are of opinion, that the subject of discourse is not the mind of God, but the mind of the beast. But the beast is too far distant, and in the preceding verses is not distinctly enough marked as the proper author of the hostile proceeding, while the destruction of the woman is expressly described as the determinate purpose of God. (Comp. the words in Revelation 17:1, “I will shew thee the judgment of the great whore,” and in Revelation 17:12, “They receive power as kings.”)

And to do one mind. How wonderful that one mighty impulse should thus urge these peoples, each independent of one another, and in part even hostile to each other, so that they could not rest, till they had accomplished their end! That they do one mind, stands in the closest connection with this, that they do the mind of God, and from that alone receives its explanation

They give their kingdom to the beast, for the destruction of Rome, and at the same time to make war upon the church—comp. Revelation 17:14. The ground on which this giving proceeds, is their own sinfulness, their alienation from God, their unconverted state. On this ground God, who turns the hearts of kings, and their people like the rivers of waters, turns them so, that instead of being content to sit at home in their obscurity and sloth, they should come forth on the theatre of the world’s history. The sins, which they there committed, in the horrors they inflicted on Rome and the war they waged against the church, belonged to themselves; the bitter fountain from which they flowed, sprang in their own hearts and existed before these things were done. But the impulse awakened in their minds by God served, not only to execute his judgment on Babylon, but also to bring about their conversion, and along therewith the fulfilment of the word of God. It is clear as day, that we are not to substitute the mere permission of God in the place of putting it into their heart. That is to be rejected on doctrinal, as well as exegetical grounds. It is a grievous humiliation of God, when in anxious solitude for his glory one would ascribe to him only the part of an idle looker-on in the most important events of the world’s history. (See the considerations presented on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in my Beitr. vol. iii., p. 462, ss).

What word of God is meant, is rendered more specific, partly from the parallel passage in ch. Revelation 10:7, “the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets,” and partly from Revelation 17:16 and Revelation 17:14. By these we are taught to limit the expression to the promises of victory given to the church. These pass into fulfilment, first when Rome is overthrown by the ten kings, and then when they themselves are overcome by the Lamb, and are received into the bosom of the Christian church.

Verse 18

Revelation 17:18. And the woman, that thou, sawest, is the great city, which has kingdom over the kings of the earth. In regard to the great city, see on ch. Revelation 16:19. It is the city, which had dominion in the time of the Seer, that is spoken of. In vain have Bengel and others employed their ingenuity on the has. It never once means: which then has. In the presence of the great city, which then had dominion over the kings of the earth, John must necessarily have expressed himself otherwise, if he had not meant that city, which all his first readers would naturally think of, but another one. Besides, if the kings are worldly kings, then the kingdom, which the woman has, will be a worldly kingdom. Papal Rome, too, has never had for the papacy the same importance, which heathen Rome had for the Roman empire. The pope has never been, like the emperor, only the representative of Rome, so that the dominion might be attributed, not to him, but to Rome, as is done here. [Note: The close connection between Rom and the imperial dignity is manifest alone from this, that the same temple was erected at once to Rome and to Augustus—comp. Spanheim de usu numism. I., p. 138—and also from Hadrian building in Rome itself a temple to the city. Designations of Rome corresponding to what is written in the text may be found among Roman writers in great abundance; for ex. Marial: Terrarum dea gentiumque Roma, cui par est nihil, et nihili secundum; Amm. Marcellinus: Per omnes quotquot sunt partes terrarium et Domina suspecta et regina. The Roman senate was called by Cicero populorum omnium ac regum consilium. See also in Spanheim I., p. 138—and for proofs of Rome being called the queen or reigning city, Ib. II. p. 101.]

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/revelation-17.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile