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Revelation 17

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

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Verses 1-18


Section Fourteenth

First Special End-Judgment: The Judgment upon Babylon, as a Heaven-picture. (Ch. 17)

General.—Babylon, in the wider sense of the term, is the entire anti-Godly world, conceived of in its concentration; Babylon, in the narrower sense of the term, is the secularized, ungodly and anti-Godly, external Church; a birth-place of Antichristianity, in which the Antichristian essence often appears very undisguisedly, though the Beast, Antichrist himself, does not manifest himself therein. Here, the reference is to Babylon in the narrower sense, and primarily in respect of the heavenly appearance of her judgment.

According to this Heaven-picture of the judgment, the horrible appearance of the Woman is itself the judgment. Conformably to her general appearance, she is the great Harlot (Revelation 17:1-2), i. e. the object and subject of idolatry, the patroness of, and seducer to, apostasy from the living God. Her appearance is presented in abominable contradictions: 1. A Woman in the wilderness of a seemingly holy renunciation of the world and asceticism, and yet riding, like an Amazon, upon a royally decorated Beast, a many-headed monster, marked with names of blasphemy. 2. The Woman in magnificent princely attire, with the golden cup in her hand—and yet in, and together with, the cup, abominations and uncleannesses of idolatry, and even bearing on her forehead, for all who are acquainted with spiritual characters, the following title: Babylon the Great, the mother of the fornications and abominations of the earth. 3. The Woman, claiming the purest womanliness, in the religious sense of the term (see Revelation 12:0), drunken—with the blood of the saints; with the blood, even, of the martyrs of Jesus—of Jesus, Whose mother, sister, bride, she would fain be called.

The Beast on which she rides has also great contradictions attaching to it. 1. It was and is not. The ungodly world-power was and is not—is in principle annihilated by Christianity. 2. It is not, and it will ascend out of the abyss, to a new development of ungodly worldly glory in face of Christianity. 3. It will ascend, to the end that it may go down into perdition. 4. It is the hardest riddle to all the pious, the admiration of all the earthly-minded. 5. Its seven heads are seven mountains, which, however, are in reality identical with many ebbing and flowing waters. 6. It goes to destruction in the consecrated septenary of its kings, only to revive again in the profane decenary of kings. 7. It has long borne the Woman on its colossal body, and will at last destroy her with its ten horns. 8. The monstrous dividedness of the Beast is transformed into perfect unitedness in the warfare against the Harlot. 9. The Woman goes to destruction through the contradiction of her similarity to the Lamb and her affinity to the Beast.

Special.—[Revelation 17:1.] Come, I will show thee the judgment of the great Harlot. Her appearance itself, therefore, is, primarily, her judgment. We are not to shun speaking of this judgment; but we must not interpret it rudely, in a manner offensive to the legal system of faith and worship. We have, therefore, to distinguish (1) between the Woman and the Beast which bears her; (2) between the symbolic form of the Woman, which embraces a symbolic Babylon, and her historic and most prominent organs and central points; (3) at the same time we are to recognize the fact that the corruption of the Church converges, more or less, to historic nodes, and is therein consummated. Babylon is everywhere in the Church, and yet is nowhere perfectly palpable; it, however, has its historic zenith-points. (Who, for instance, could refuse to reckon consummate Byzantinism, Mormonism and other sects based upon a pretension to inspiration, as forming portions of Babylon?)—As many Antichrists appear in the fore-ground of Antichristianity (1 John 2:18), so in the foreground of the consummate Babylon of the last time there are many Babylons, especially predominantly spiritual and predominantly secular figures of Babylon.—A leading mark of Babylon is the universal ruinous effect which proceeds from the very city which pretends to be and once was a teacher and educator of the nations; this effect is two-fold and in many respects antithetic: the seduction of kings to fanatical worldliness, and of nations to fanatical mock-holiness.—[Revelation 17:2.] With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication. An old and yet in many respects new story. History points to a whole series of dynasties which have been ruined by fanaticism, or have at least been brought to the very verge of ruin.—History tells us of nations that have been made drunk, and that have, more or less, sunk into national ruin. Fallen or sunken Christian kingdoms in the East and West.—[Revelation 17:3-4.] The similarity and the difference between the picture of Revelation 12:0 and that of the present chapter: 1. Between the phases of the Woman; 2. Between the phases of the wilderness; 3. Between the relative positions of the Woman and the Beast.—Contrast between the wilderness abode of the Woman and her luxury.—Contrast between her perilous equestrian seat, figuring a taming of the Beast, and her festal attire. (There is also a distinction between warboots—Ephesians 6:15—and slippers.)—Contrast between the golden cup and the abominations contained in it.—[Revelation 17:5.] The name on the forehead—manifest and yet a mystery.—The old antithesis: Babylon and Zion.—[Revelation 17:6.] Amazement of John (see Exeg. Notes).—Horror of the holy mind at a caricature of the holy.—Strange manifestation of unnaturalness in the corruptions of the Church.

Revelation 17:8. How the earthly-minded are, by the terrible aspect of the Beast, kept in a state of dependence upon the Woman, as long as the latter sits upon the Beast.

Revelation 17:9. Hither an understanding that hath wisdom. Profane learning can only misinterpret this enigmatical phenomenon.—The world-monarchies, see Exeg. Notes.—Waverings of unredeemed humanity between the false unity of the world-monarchy and a dissipation into heathenism, barbarism, savageness.—Continuance of this wavering in the antithesis of the Hierarchy and separatism, absolutism and radicalism.—[Revelation 17:12 ] The ten horns: Or the fall of religious absolutism is followed by the rule of an irreligious radicalism.—[Revelation 17:13.] Demonic union of the ten horns. The principle of this union is to be found in their hatred of the Lamb, whose shadow they still persecute in the Woman.

Revelation 17:14. The Lamb shall conquer them. Find the agreement between this and Revelation 13:7. Of a conquest through [seeming] defeat, and a defeat through [seeming] conquest. What contrasts between the inner and the outer world, between the passing moment and the future, between seeming and being, are contained in the preceding paragraph.—The Beast as the conqueror of the Harlot, conquered by the Lamb.—Comp. the Old Testament prophecies against Babylon, especially Jeremiah 51:0.—Fearful mission of the ten kings (Revelation 17:17).—[Revelation 17:16.] Threefold judgment upon the Woman.—[Revelation 17:12.] The Antichristian power lasts but one hour, i. e., a short time; but it is an hour in the theocratico-religious sense, a sore and painful hour of temptation [trial]. The union of the wicked occurs only in special moments of judgment and never, through an abolition of their inner egoistical division, attains to the oneness of the saints.

Revelation 17:18. in relation to Revelation 17:7. In Heaven, the unnatural appearance of the Woman is itself, already, “the judgment of the great Harlot.”

Starke: Application of the judgment upon Babylon to the “idolatrous Church of the Papacy.” Reasons for this application: “the great magnificence and ostentation of this Church in the external worship of God; the blandishments and flatteries which it employs to draw people to itself, etc.Fornication is interpreted as spiritual adultery, apostasy from Christ, the Husband of the Church. It is easy to learn who this Harlot is, from the description of her, and from her antithesis, the Bride of the Lamb. Her equestrian posture indicates that she derives her might and authority from the Beast and that she rules over it;—that she has arbitrarily subjected the Roman Empire to herself, has placed herself above emperors and kings, and has instated and deposed them. The crimson and bloody hue [of the Beast] is indicative of the bloodthirstiness excited in it by the persuasions of the Harlot.—[Revelation 17:4.] Arrayed in purple and scarlet: purple, to indicate her usurped royal exaltation and pre-eminence above all potentates; and scarlet, to indicate her thirst for the blood of the saints. The true Church is resplendent only in the robe of Christ. There is nothing so abominable and unclean that it cannot be disguised and decorated with a tinsel of this world.

Revelation 17:5. The whole essence of false religion is a mystery, but a mystery of iniquity and all godlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7). As the mystery of Christ passes all understanding and incites to godliness, so the mystery of iniquity is conceived by pure serpent-cunning and contains nothing but deception; note, e.g., the miraculous power resident, as the Church of Rome pretends, in certain pictures and images, etc.—[Revelation 17:6.] A leading mark of the false Church: pagan Rome, in the three centuries [of her existence subsequent to the Christian era], shed less blood, by far, than so-called Christian Rome. (Starke adduces the example of France, in particular.)

Revelation 17:8. And yet is: This is not to be understood as referring to Antiochus himself or to such Antichristian regents as stood in the fiercest spirit of Antiochus (Hoffmann’s view?).

Revelation 17:9. Understanding and wisdom are two different things. There may be understanding without wisdom, but there can be no wisdom without understanding.—(Starke mentions the seven mountains of Rome; he remarks, however, that the Apocalyptic seven mountains have also been interpreted as seven famous Popes.)

Revelation 17:12. Marginal gloss, (Luther): These are the other kings,—for instance, of Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, France (!).—Quesnel: The Lamb suffers and succumbs in His members, and the members, whilst they are oppressed, conquer in the Lamb (Romans 8:37).

Revelation 17:16. This verse is entirely subversive of the opinion that the Beast denotes the Pope.—Great cities, great sins; and by the example of such cities, whole countries are seduced (Jeremiah 23:15).

Auberlen (p. 317 [Eng. Trans.]): The fact that the Harlot is judged first, is not only in harmony with the general principle, that judgment must begin at the house of God (Jeremiah 25:29; Ezekiel 9:6; 1 Peter 4:17), but a restoration of actual truth is also designed. The object which, in effect, alone continues to exist—is recognized as existing—at the time indicated [the time of the judgment of the Harlot], is the world; for even the Church now courts only its favor, even for the Church it is the only reality. Against such a Church, the world must carry the day; and therefore the Harlot is not judged by the Lord Himself, but by the Beast and its kings.

Graeber: [Revelation 17:5.] A mother of harlots is one who brings up others to harlotry.

Revelation 17:6. It must needs be a subject of highest amazement that Christians, or those who pretend to be Christians, can reach such a pass.—[Revelation 17:16.] The Catholic States will in great part themselves accomplish the work of the destruction of the papacy.

Laemmert (Das Thier und der falsche Prophet, p. 36): “The origin of Babel [Babylon] is related, Genesis 11:0. (comp. with Revelation 10:8-11). This [Genesis 11:0.] is the same chapter which, in its second part, gives the genealogy of the chosen Shemite, Abraham, and closes by describing the exode of Terah and his family from Chaldea and their entrance into Canaan. Here, therefore, we already have the foundation and beginnings of that grand dualism which runs through the whole of the Sacred Writings and the entire history of mankind down to the consummation. The founder of Babel was a grandson of him who scoffed at his father, and his name was Nimrod, i. e., rebel. Human arrogance built the city and the tower, to make itself a name—not to the honor of God’s name; of its own strength and will—not at the behest of God. The inner motives were thoughts of arrogance, of the deification of man and of self.”

Chantepie de la Saussaye, De Toekomst, p. 117. Man kann zeggen, dat de grand der tegenstelling der beide rijken reeds ligt in de paradijs-belofte. Doch wat daar nog slechts in het allgemeen gen?md wordt het zaad der slang, etc., verkrijgt immer meer kleur en gestalte.

[From The Comprehensive Commentary.—The Lord takes pleasure in satisfying His people concerning the reason and equity of His judgments on His enemies; that they may not be intimidated by the severity of them, or fail to adore and praise Him on that account.—Great prosperity, pomp and splendor, commonly feed the pride and lusts of the human heart; yet they form no security against Divine vengeance.—Those who allure or tempt others to sin, must expect more aggravated punishment, in proportion to the degree of the mischief done by them. (Scott.)]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/revelation-17.html. 1857-84.
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