Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

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Revelation 17. The Vision of the Harlot and the Beast.— In Revelation 14:18 and Revelation 16:19 brief statements have been made concerning the overthrow of Babylon, the name which is used in Revelation to denote the Roman Empire. In ch. 17 the whole drama of the destruction is unfolded in the form of a vision. A scarlet woman appears riding on a beast with seven heads and ten horns ( cf. Revelation 13:1 *). The woman is described as “ drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs.” The beast and the woman war against the Lamb of God and are overthrown. The explanation of the vision is apparent from the statements made by the seer himself. The woman represents Rome, “ the city of the seven hills.” The beast is the Empire personified in the Emperor Nero. The “ seven heads” are seven kings, and the “ ten horns” ten provincial rulers or satraps. Nothing could exceed the lurid picture of the Roman Empire drawn in the chapter, but the Neronian persecution justifies and more than justifies all that is written here.

Verses 1-8

Revelation 17:1 . harlot . . . waters: the description of Babylon in Jeremiah 51:13, “ thou that dwellest upon many waters,” is here transferred to Rome. [Ultimately it goes back probably still further. The “ many waters” refer to the watery chaos, the chaos monster, so that the beast on which the woman sits is really identical with the many waters on which she is said to sit in this verse.— A. S. P.]

Revelation 17:2 . kings . . . fornication: the imagery is that of OT ( cf. Isaiah 23:17). The sin of which these kings were guilty “ consisted in purchasing the favour of Rome by accepting her suzerainty and with it her vices and idolatries” (Swete).

Revelation 17:3 . into a wilderness: cf. Isaiah 31.— scarlet-coloured beast: the beast, as in Revelation 13:1-10, is the political power of Rome personified in Nero. The term “ scarlet” indicates the pomp and splendour of the Empire.— full of names of blasphemy: i.e. the imperial titles which claimed Divine honours for the Emperor.— seven . . . horns: Revelation 12:3 *.

Revelation 17:5 . Mystery: the term here means “ symbol,” and the whole phrase signifies, “ This woman is the symbol of Babylon the Great.”

Revelation 17:6 . drunk with the blood: a reference to the Neronian persecution. [If a Jewish source has been employed here, the original reference may have been to the appalling bloodshed in the war with Rome and the sufferings which followed the suppression of the rebellion. See p. 774 .— A. S. P.]

Revelation 17:7 . the mystery of the woman: i.e. what the woman symbolises.

Revelation 17:8 . was and is not: like “ the wounded head” in Revelation 13:3, this phrase evidently refers to the legend of Nero redivivus. A widespread rumour was current through the Empire that Nero was not actually dead but in hiding and would soon return. Cf. Tacitus ( Hist. ii. 8 ), “ About the same time Greece and Asia were greatly alarmed by a false report that Nero was about to reappear . . . so that many pretended that he was alive and even believed it.” For other references to this belief, cf. Cent.B, pp. 56 ff.— out of the abyss: this phrase implies that Nero had actually died, though in Revelation 13:3 he seems to have recovered from his “ wounded head.” These contradictory statements represent two different forms of the legend.— name . . . book of life, etc.: Revelation 13:8 *.

Verses 9-18

Revelation 17:9 . seven mountains: Rome was described as “ the city of the seven hills.”

Revelation 17:10 . seven kings: this is a second interpretation of the “ heads.” The most probable explanation is: “ The five are fallen,” i.e. Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero are dead; “ the one is,” i.e. Vespasian is still reigning, “ the other is not yet come,” i.e. Titus is still to ascend the throne as seventh emperor (but cf. p. 928 ).

Revelation 17:11 . an eighth and is of the seven: i.e. Nero, who was the fifth emperor in the foregoing list, and on his return would be the eighth.

Revelation 17:12 . ten horns: probably ten Parthian satraps who were about to assist Nero to recover his kingdom and would be rewarded for their loyalty by receiving kingdoms.— for one hour: the rule of Nero redivivus would be of the shortest possible duration.

Revelation 17:14 . The victory of Christ over the empire of Antichrist.

Revelation 17:16 . the ten horns: Revelation 17:12 *.— shall hate the harlot: the belief was that Nero would return in fury to wreak vengeance on Rome.

Revelation 17:17 . God uses the plans and devices of His enemies to fulfil His own purposes.

Revelation 17:18 . the great city: this verse proves that “ Babylon” in this chapter must mean Rome, for the phrase “ which reigneth over the kings of the earth” could only apply to Rome.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.