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Bible Commentaries

Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 17

I. STUDY NOTES--Revelation 17, 18 19:1-10

Chapter 17, 18, 19 and 20 are difficult chapters. To outline every detail in these study notes would probably confuse the reader; so we present here our personal view of the meaning of these chapters.

At the close of chapter 16 we reached the end of the three series of judgments which form the main part of the book of Revelation (the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets, and the 7 bowls). Now begins another series of visions of the fall of Babylon--which is looking at the same events from another point of view. And deals with the same "little season" of the whole Christian era--One needs to get John’s picture by first reading the whole of Chapters 17, 18 to verse 10 of chapter 19.

The fact that John does not want us to think of the events he describes in order of historical time is shown by the fact that twice before he has told us of Babylon and her doom. As we have explained before, in each series of visions John brings us to the end of all things and then in the next series of visions John takes us back to look at the same events from another viewpoint. That this is John’s method is clearly shown in the vision of the fall of Babylon which he describes in such detail in these chapters now before us. If we return to 14:8 and 16:19 we realize that whilst the fall of Babylon was described in these earlier visions the same event is now being described in closer detail.

The main questions connected with interpretation of these 3½ chapters are WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY "THE BEAST?" AND WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE TERM "BABYLON?"

Verses 1-6

17:1-6 THE VISION OF THE BEAST AND THE HARLOT

This wild beast we saw previously in 13:1-10. We defined him as "world-power." The woman harlot is "SEATED ON HIM" for she draws her SUPPORT FROM AND CONTROLS THIS BEAST (of world-power).

Verses 7-18

Verse 7-18 EXPLAIN THE MYSTERY OF THE BEAST AND THE HARLOT.

1.

"THE BEAST" we understand as "WORLDLY-POWER," which verse 8 describes as "WAS and IS NOT, and IS TO ASCEND FROM THE BOTTOMLESS PIT, and TO GO TO PERDITION." This beast--this worldly-power LIVED, AND WAS BROUGHT TO NOTHING BY CHRIST, AND WAS plunged into the bottomless pit, and will go at last to destruction. "THE SEVEN HEADS" are described in verses 9-13 as "SEVEN KINGS." If we link these verses with Daniel 7:3-8; Daniel 7:23-24 we then interpret John’s vision as describing seven periods of worldly rule of opposition against God’s people. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, are the first five powers, or heads of the beast. They are fallen--These are referred to in verse 8 as the beast that "WAS, AND IS NOT." Rome is the SIXTH power which was persecuting God’s people when John wrote in verse 10 "ONE IS." Is John saying that WORLD-POWER AFTER THE FALL OF ROME WILL NOT BE ONE GREAT KINGDOM BUT THAT WORLD POWER WILL BE DISTRIBUTED?--There will be a collection of world powers which will be against Christ? These will continue only for "ONE HOUR" says verse 12, "ONLY A LITTLE WHILE" says verse 10. It seems significant that there has never been ONE world-wide empire since the fall of Rome. And John says in verse 11 that no eighth empire shall arise, but that at the last the wild beast of world-power in convulsive death throes will attack God’s people. John also says that however great and powerful these powers are--they will be destroyed. It is significant also that John saw the beasts being brought to nothing and sent into the bottomless pit during the sixth (or Roman) head. It was during the Roman rule that Christ won the victory at the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension. The history of the beast, however, does not end with his defeat. He rises again in the seventh head which is an association of 10 world powers, (not necessarily 10 literal world powers--10 is the symbol of fulness, completeness, limitation)--in these the beast has resurrection power. So, the Beast is active in persecuting God’s people through the entire Christian era, from Pentecost until Christ returns.--Note also in verse 15 that "THE SEA" out of which beast and harlot rise, and over which they rule is "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues."

2.

THE SECOND THING--WHO IS "THE HARLOT" AND WHAT IS "BABYLON"? The harlot is described in verses of chapter 17 and is also described in verse 18 as "THE GREAT CITY WHICH HAS DOMINION OVER THE KINGS OF THE EARTH." John draws a contrast between TWO CITIES--BABYLON and JERUSALEM TWO WOMEN--THE HARLOT and THE CHURCH (1) "BABYLON," is a name based on Genesis 11:1-32 when men built "Babel" and in their revolt against God became "confused" in more than their language. To us "BABYLON" is a symbol--not of Rome, nor of any city of the future. "BABYLON" IS "THE CITY OF WORLDLINESS IN ITS WIDEST SENSE. AND THIS MAY BE FOUND IN ADELAIDE, MOSCOW--ANYWHERE MEN LIVE. "BABYLON" IS THE CITY OF WORLDLINESS, OF CONFUSION, OF GODLESSNESS." The modern Babylon--CITY OF CONFUSION--CITY OF MAN. In every modern city today there is confusion. Clearly man cannot run the affairs of this world without God. Yet man refuses to turn from his godlessness, so John foretells the ultimate fall of all godlessness in this vision of the fall of Babylon. John draws the contrast between the two cities Babylon and Jerusalem. He develops the contrast later in chapter 21. (2) John continues the contrast of THE TWO WOMEN Babylon, the HARLOT, is not to be identified with any ONE denomination of the church. Babylon is within and outside all denominations. She is THE FALSE CHURCH WHEREVER SHE IS. She is the church which is untrue to Christ. She is THE MERELY NOMINAL CHURCH which is unfaithful to Christ--the church in NAME only. She is the TARES growing with the good seed as described by Jesus in Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43.

THE IMPORTANT POINT IS THAT WE MUST CHOOSE WHICH SIDE WE ARE ON.

Whether we understand all the details of John’s vision in chapters 17 and 18 is not important. It is important that we make our choice aright. Either we belong to the New Jerusalem or to Babylon (that is, either we are members of the Bride of Christ or of the harlot). Either we are faithful to Christ or we are unfaithful. We cannot be neutral. We are committed on the side of Christ--or on the side of the devil. We cannot serve God and mammon.

Those earthly governments which treat God with scorn rather than obedience--which legislate to please the lower desires of popular vote rather than to obey God’s moral and spiritual law, all these governments will perish. But God’s throne is not subject to the dizzy change of popular opinion.

The story of the battle between evil and good is repeated again and again in the book of Revelation. Sometimes the battle is in heaven, sometimes it is here on earth. Always the arrogant forces of evil are defeated. Here in chapters 17 and 18 the forces of the beast and the harlot (or worldliness both in political and religious spheres) are defeated by Christ.

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Bibliographical Information
Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/nor/revelation-17.html. 2021.