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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Revelation 17

Verses 1-18

14 The Woman and the Beast (Revelation 17)

We have learned from Chapter 13 that during the reign of the beast - the head of the revived Roman Empire - all the evils of the times of the Gentiles will reach their terrible climax. Then we have learned, from Revelation 14-16, that these evils will call down the judgments of God upon the kingdom of the beast and the worshippers of his image. This intervention of God will also reach its climax in the judgments symbolised by the pouring out of the seven vials which are definitely described as "the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God" (Rev 15:1). These final judgments prepare the way for the personal return of Christ as foretold in Rev 19:11-18.

But before this great event is described, we are given, in Revelation 17 and 18, further details of the overwhelming judgment that will overtake the false religious system that is set forth under the figures of a false woman, and the great city Babylon. Already in the course of these judgments we have had two brief allusions to the judgment of Babylon (Rev 14:8, Rev 16:19). But this corrupt system has loomed so largely in the history of the world that God has seen well to warn His people to be wholly apart from it by giving us, in these two chapters, further details as to its true character and its solemn end under the judgment of God.

Attention to the Word will make it plain that under the figure of Babylon we have a presentation of corrupt Christendom as set forth in Papal Rome. In verse 9 the vision is identified with the seven-hilled city of Rome. In verse 15 we have a system which has exercised almost universal sway over "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues:" again, in verse 18 it is viewed as having reigned "over the kings of the earth." Is it not manifest that only Papal Rome answers to this description?Revelation 17 it is presented under the figure of a woman; in Revelation 18 it is seen under the figure of a great city. The woman presents the Papacy in all its corruption, as seen by God, for the woman is presented as a harlot. The city sets forth the Papacy as seen by man in all its magnificence and luxury. A little later, in the Revelation, we shall see a wonderful vision of the true church, first as the Bride of Christ (Rev. 19) and then in relation to the world as a heavenly city (Rev. 21). Here we have the devil's imitation which, though claiming to be the church of Christ, is exposed as being a corrupt harlot and a worldly city.

Viewing this false system as presented in Revelation 17, we notice that in the first division - verses 1-6 we have the vision seen by John. In the second division - verses 7-18 - we have the angel's interpretation of the vision.

(Vv. 1, 2) John is told that he will be shown the judgment of this false system which is described not only by the figure of a woman, but a corrupt and licentious woman, thus setting forth in figure that this false system would rob men of all true allegiance to Christ. Her widespread influence is expressed by the statement that she "sitteth upon many waters." Her evil influence upon the leaders that govern in Christendom is set forth under the figure of unholy intercourse with "the kings of the earth."

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/revelation-17.html. 1832.