Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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Revelation 17:1-4 John’s vision of the great whore, sitting upon the scarlet coloured beast, arrayed in purple and scarlet, with a golden cup in her hand.

Revelation 17:5 Her name.

Revelation 17:6 She is drunken with the blood of saints.

Revelation 17:7-17 The interpretation of the mystery of the beast, and of his seven heads and ten horns,

Revelation 17:18 and of the woman.

Verse 1

This whole verse is but a preface to a new vision which John had; not new, as to the matter revealed in it; for it plainly revealeth matters relating to antichrist; and the matter of it contemporizeth with the three last vials, about the final ruin of antichrist, who was before described under the notion of a beast, here under the notion of a

great whore. A whore properly signifies one that is married, and is false to her husband’s bed; and so very well suits the Church of Rome, (if they yet deserve that name), whose faith was formerly spoken of throughout the world, Romans 1:8, but is long since turned idolatrous (idolatry, in the prophetic style, being quite through the Scripture called whoredom). She is said to

sit upon many waters, either because she exerciseth a jurisdiction over much people, or with allusion to old Babylon, (which gave her her name), which was situated near Euphrates, a river in which there was a great collection of waters. John is called to hear the counsels of God concerning her destruction, which though more generally and shortly revealed before, yet God here designs to reveal to John more fully, particularly, and plainly.

Verse 2

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication; with which great whore several princes of the world have committed spiritual fornication, receiving her idolatrous worship, yielding to her authority, and following her example.

And the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with, the wine of her fornication; and not the kings only of the earth, but the generality of the people, have been influenced with a mad heat, and with the wine of her fornication, that is, with that wine by which she enticed them to commit idolatry with her. By this wine are meant honours, riches, preferments, pleasure, the gaudery of her worship, the magnificence of the apostolic see, their pretended antiquity, unity; in short, whatsoever specious arguments papists use to entice persons into the idolatrous communion of their church.

Verse 3

So he carried me away in the spirit; that is, being in an ecstasy; see Revelation 4:2; whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell, as Paul expresseth it, 2 Corinthians 12:2.

Into the wilderness; a place not, or not much, inhabited, either as fittest for contemplation. or to signify that this great whore, which had driven the spouse of Christ into the wilderness, should shortly herself come into her state, according to the fate of old Babylon, Jeremiah 1:13.

And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast; the great whore, mentioned Revelation 17:1, upheld by the Roman emperors.

Full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns; the same which is mentioned Revelation 13:1;

See Poole on "Revelation 13:1". Here a great question ariseth, who this

woman is, or, (which is the same, as appeareth by Revelation 17:5), what city is meant by Babylon, mentioned Revelation 17:5; a question (as Mr. Pool noteth) of high concernment; for whoever this woman is, or whatsoever this Babylon signifieth, the people of God are upon pain of damnation admonished to avoid any communion with her, and to come out of her, Revelation 14:9,Revelation 14:10. Mr. Pool hath diligently collected into his Latin Synopsis all opinions about it, and showed what is to be said for or against them; I will give my reader the sum of what he saith.

1. Some would have it to be the whole world of wicked men. Against this it is said:

(1.) That John speaks here of a certain great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth, Revelation 17:18; this cannot be meant of the wicked world.

(2.) The world of wicked men are those inhabitants of the earth, whom this woman made drunk with the wine of her fornication: now she that made them drunk, and those that were made drunk, cannot be the same.

(3.) This woman sitteth on seven mountains, Revelation 17:9, and so do not all the wicked of the world.

(4.) We are commanded to come out of this Babylon, but we are not obliged to go out of the world.

2. Others would have this woman, or this Babylon, to be the old Chaldean Babylon. But:

(1.) Where then is the mystery, mentioned Revelation 17:5?

(2.) The Babylon here mentioned, is by all agreed to be the seat of antichrist; so was that never.

3. The generality agree it to be Rome. Amongst the ancients, Tertullian, Jerome, Ambrose, CEcumenius, Augustine, Eusebius: of later writers, Beda, Aquinas, Salmeron, Pererius, Bellarmine, Lapide, Ribera, (all papists), besides a multitude of protestant writers.

(1.) That city is also like old Babylon for power and greatness, for oppression and tyranny of and over God’s Israel; besides, the city here mentioned is described by two characters, agreeing to none but Rome, Revelation 17:9, dwelling upon seven hills.

(2.) Reigning over the kings of the earth: for the first Rome is the only city in the world founded upon seven hills, and famed for it by its old poets, Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, &c. It is attested to be so founded by Plutarch, Pliny, Dionysius, Halicarnassaeus. The names of these hills are known: Palatinus, Quirinalis, Aventinus, Celius, Veminalis, Esquilinus, Capitolinus. Both papist and protestant writers agree that here by Babylon Rome is meant; but they are divided, whether it be to be understood of Rome in its old pagan state, or in its present state, or in a state yet to come.

4. Some would have it to be Rome in its pagan state; of this mind are Grotius, and Dr. Hammond, and some others. But against this many things are said:

(1.) It is manifest that God here describes Rome not as under its sixth head, viz. the pagan emperors, but as it was under its last head, the eighth king, Revelation 17:11, as it should ascend out of the bottomless pit, Revelation 17:8.

(2.) What John saw herein mentioned as a secret about the blood of the saints, which he wondered at; now the pagan emperors’ spilling the blood of saints was a thing long since done.

(3.) The desolation of the Babylon here mentioned was to be final, never to be repaired, as appears by Revelation 18:21-23; but pagan Rome was never made so desolate.

(4.) If Rome pagan be here meant, then, after its fall, Rome Christian was the habitation of devils, Revelation 18:2.

(5.) Rome pagan fell upon our saints with downright blows, not with allurements, making them drunk with the wine of her fornication, as Revelation 17:2.

5. The papists, who grant that by Babylon Rome is meant, would have it to be Rome toward the end of the world, when, they say, Rome shall apostatize from the pope to paganism again; but for this opinion there is no foundation in Scripture, nor the judgment of the ancients, and some of the papists themselves reject it as improbable and detestable.

6. The generality and best of protestant writers understand by Babylon, and by this woman, Rome, as it is at this day under the conduct of the pope, for which they give these reasons.

(1.) Because it cannot be understood of Rome in either of the other notions, as hath been proved.

(2.) Because antichrist is to sit in the temple of God, 2 Thessalonians 2:4, as God, therefore not in any pagan city. The mystery of iniquity was working in the apostle’s time, but, Revelation 17:7, the Roman empire hindered the appearance of antichrist till the popes had wrung Rome out of their hands, and were the sole rulers there; then antichrist showed himself.

(3.) Because there is nothing said of this great whore, or this Babylon, but admirably agreeth to Rome in its present state.

Verse 4

And the woman was arrayed in a purple and scarlet colour; purple was the colour of kings and princes: this woman, Revelation 18:7, said she was queen.

Scarlet also was a rich and noble colour, anciently most used in a time of war. How much it is in use with the pope and his cardinals, is sufficiently known.

And decked with gold and precious stones and pearls; this shows the worldly riches of the papacy.

Having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; alluring and tempting persons to idolatry, as whores use to do with their philters, or enchanted cups, allure and provoke men to sensual satisfactions.

Verse 5

And upon her forehead was a name written; as public harlots were wont to write their names, some upon the fronts of their houses, some upon their foreheads: it denotes the open guilt and impudence of this spiritual harlot.

Mystery; that is, there is a mystery in what follows in her name.

Babylon the great; not to be understood of the Chaldean Babylon, but of a city or polity under the gospel; as, Revelation 11:8, she was called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, so also in a spiritual or mystical sense she is called Babylon, because a city like to Babylon for idolatry and persecution of God’s Israel.

The mother of harlots; not it mere harlot but one that bred up harlots, and nursed up idolatry, communicating it to others. This is the true name of Rome instead of "holy mother church."

And abominations of the earth; a place in which not only idolatry reigneth, but all abominable things committed in the world; carnal whoredom tolerated by them, and sodomy, &c.

Verse 6

And I saw the woman, the papacy, drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; filled with the blood of those holy ones, which she caused to be slain for bearing testimony to Jesus Christ.

And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration; which he would not have done had it been a pagan Rome he had seen in this vision. But that any that owned Christ, and called themselves the holy church, should kill men for bearing testimony to Christ, and adherence to his rule of faith and life, this caused in John a just wonderment.

Verse 7

The angel promiseth to open this vision, it being the key of the former vision, and is the only vision expounded throughout this whole book.

Verse 8

The beast that thou sawest; this beast was the Roman empire, the scarlet coloured beast which carried the whore, Revelation 17:3.

Was, and is not; was of old, in Rome’s pagan state, and is not, not in that form, not now pagan;

and yet is (as is said in the close of the verse) the same in another form, idolatrous and persecuting.

And shall ascend out of the bottomless pit; either, out of the sea, which signifies a multitude of people; or, from hell; the word signifies both.

And go into perdition; and shall certainly be destroyed.

And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, &c.: but before he goes into perdition he shall so cheat the world, that the generality of the people shall wonder at the beast, {see Revelation 8:8} setting aside those who are chosen of God to eternal salvation; the one hundred and forty-four thousand, mentioned Revelation 14:3. I conceive that which hath made interpreters so divided in their notions about this beast is, because those words, and yet is, are not added in the beginning of the verse, which being understood, there appears no difficulty considerable; for it is certain the Roman empire was from before Christ, and continued pagan till the year 310; then was not pagan, but Christian, yet after some years was again as idolatrous and bloody against Christians, as the old pagan empire was; especially when swallowed up by the pope, the beast with two horns like a lamb. This is the beast with seven heads and ten horns, Revelation 13:1.

Verse 9

And here is the mind which hath wisdom; that is, here is that which requireth a mind endued with spiritual wisdom.

The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth; the seven heads which he saw the beast with, signified seven mountains or hills upon which Rome is situated; they were named before: See Poole on "Revelation 17:3". They tell us now Rome is situated in Campo Martio. Resp. Whatever it now is, certain it is, that in St. John’s time it was situated upon them, and they are now within the compass of Rome.

Verse 10

And there are seven kings; the seven heads do not only signify seven hills or mountains, but also seven kings, that is, (according to the best interpretation I meet with), seven forms of government which ruled Rome; the term kings, it Scripture, signifying rulers, whether the government was in single persons, or more, as Deuteronomy 33:5. Rome was governed:

1. By kings.

2. By consuls.

3. Tribunes.

4. Decemvirs.

5. Dictators.

6. Emperors that were pagans.

7. Emperors that were Christians.

Five are fallen; five of these were fallen, extinguishied before John’s time, viz. the government by kings, consuls, tribunes, decemvirs, dictators.

And one is; the government by pagan emperors was at that time in being.

And the other is not yet come; the government by Christian emperors was not yet in being.

And when he cometh, he must continue a short space; and when it came, it held but a little time before the bishops of Rome wrested the government of Italy out of their hands. This to me seemeth the most probable interpretation of this difficult text.

Verse 11

And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth; this made the eighth succession of governments in the Roman empire.

And is of the seven; this was of the seventh head; for although this was the eighth government in order as we have counted them, yet one of these, viz. the seventh, (which was that of true Christian emperors), must not be counted as one of the seven heads, which were all idolatrous: so though this was the eighth government, yet he was one of the seven heads, i.e. idolatrous governments.

And goeth into perdition; and to be destroyed as they were.

Verse 12

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings: possibly by ten kings here are not meant monarchs, but governments.

Which have received no kingdom as yet; which were not in being in John’s time, nor in many years after.

But receive power as kings one hour with the beast; but should, during some time of the beast’s reign, have power with the papacy, employing their power with his to establish his idolatry. But who these ten monarchs are, or what these ten governmts are, I must confess myself at a loss to determine. It is plain they should be:

1. Such as should be contemporaneous with the reign of the beast.

2. Such as employed their power in conjunction with his.

3. Such as should afterwards be instruments to ruin the papacy, Revelation 17:16,Revelation 17:17.

The beast’s reign being twelve hundred and sixty years, there hath been, and will be, such a variety of princes and governments, as it is very hard to determine who they shall be. But their being contemporaneous with the beast, makes me think it cannot be understood either of any that were in the world before the year 606, when the beast’s reign began (though the mystery of iniquity was working, and the image of the beast was making, long before); as also that the ten barbarous nations that disturbed Italy from the year 410 till near 600 could not be meant, being all before antichrist came to any reign; nor did they ever show any great love or hatred to the pope; sometimes serving, sometimes opposing him, as suited their respective civil interests. I am very inclinable to think the prophecy to concern some kings nearer the end of antichrist’s reign, who though for a while they served the papacy, yet shall at last be instruments to ruin him; but who they are shall do this, or when it shall be, I cannot determine.

Verse 13

They shall all be papists, and for a while shall employ all their power and strength to uphold the popish religion.

Verse 14

These shall make war with the Lamb; these ten kings shall a while oppose themselves to the gospel, taking part with antichrist.

And the Lamb shall overcome them; Christ shall overcome them by the power of is gospel, or some of them that way; others, that will not be converted, shall be confounded, some way or other brought to ruin.

For he is Lord of lords and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful; for he hath a power above others, and knows how to fit instruments for his purpose; so as those whom he shall make use of in this work, shall be chosen persons, and faithful in discharge of the trust committed to them.

Verse 15

John saw the great whore sitting upon seven mountains, Revelation 17:9, and upon many waters, Revelation 17:1; these signified her dominion and jurisdiction over many people.

Verse 16

And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast: see Revelation 17:3,Revelation 17:12.

These shall hate the whore, &c.; the ten kings shall apostatize from the papacy, and be great instruments of God to ruin it. When we see some other kingdoms, now in vassalage to the pope, do as much as hath been done in England, and Scotland, and Sweden, and some other places, we may possibly understand this prophecy better than we yet do.

Verse 17

For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will; that is, what he hath determined shall be done; not what he commandeth men to do, or approveth their doing of; his permissive will.

And to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast; for God puts malice against himself and his Son into the hearts of none, which is the cause of any persons’ assisting the beast.

Until the words of God shall be fulfilled; nor shall they do this any longer than till the forty-two months be expired, which he by his word hath declared he hath allowed to these mongrel Gentiles, to tread down the outward court: but till that time be expired, these kingdoms will agree to give their power to the beast, whom about the expiration of that time they shall hate, and help to destroy.

Verse 18

And the woman which thou sawest: see Revelation 17:3.

Is that great city; that is, signifieth that great city, Babylon the great: see Revelation 17:5.

Which reigneth over the kings of the earth, commanding and punishing them as she pleaseth. To what person or power that either now is, or ever was, upon the earth, is this applicable, but to the pope, who makes emperors hold his stirrup, sends his edicts to princes to execute, excommunicates them, and interdicts their subjects, and arms them against them if they refuse? So that if the pope sits upon seven hills, or Rome he built upon them; if the papacy hath allured the inhabitants of the earth to idolatry; if in her idolatries she be the image of the old pagan idolaters; if to her many princes have given their power and strength; if she reigneth over the kings of the earth; and these things be applicable to no other person or government; there is no more doubt, whether the pope be antichrist, and Rome mystical Babylon, which shall certainly be destroyed for her idolatries and shedding the blood of God’s holy ones, than there is of what we have Revelation 1:1,Revelation 1:2, that this book contains The Revelation of Jesus Christ, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; which he sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John; who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 17". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.