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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

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Verses 1-18



NOTICE that in the Old Testament, harlotry is the frequent representation of apostasy. Babylon stands for the Apostate Church, which is here figured as a harlot temptress.

Revelation 17:4. Golden cup.—Jeremiah 51:7.

Revelation 17:5. Upon her forehead was a name.—It is said to have been an ancient custom for harlots to wear their names on their foreheads—tied on as a label. Mystery.—See 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

Revelation 17:7. Carrieth her.—The woman sitting upon the beast may mean the union of the ecclesiastical and secular power. [It is not in the design of this commentary to examine how far the events of St. John’s time, more especially in relation to the persecutions of Imperial Rome, and in relation to doctrinal and moral failures within the Church of Christ, give colour and form to his symbolical representations. It is hardly possible to make any elaborate homiletical use of this portion of the Apocalypse.] Into the controversy as to the relation of ecclesiastical Rome to these Johannine visions and prophecies, it is not either fitting or necessary that this work should enter. It has been the aim of its author and editor carefully to avoid all contentious topics, and keep entirely in the realm of general truths and principles. What wise uses may be made of single passages in these chapters will be found indicated in the homiletic portions, and in the notes and specimen outlines.


Revelation 17:3. The Scarlet Harlot.—Who or what is the Scarlet Harlot of Revelation 17:0? Commentators have given scores of opinions, but the majority have settled upon Rome, either Pagan or papal. “That great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18) to their minds determines the question, and as a collateral proof is the plain declaration (Revelation 17:9) that “the seven heads are the seven mountains on which the woman sitteth.” What can these be (they say) but the famous seven hills of Rome? These interpreters find no difficulty in exalting the petty hills of Rome into mountains, and they also fail to see that these seven mountains are (in Revelation 17:3) “a scarlet coloured beast,” and (in Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:15) “many waters.” How are they going to turn the seven hills of Rome into “many waters,” or “a beast”? The harlot sits on all three equally. The error with most commentators in this remarkable book is their strange mingling of the literal with the symbolic. It is true that when the apostle-prophet himself explains a symbol, we have a literal statement, as in Revelation 19:8. “The fine linen is the righteousness of saints,” but in all other cases the symbolism must be adhered to. In this seventeenth chapter we see a scarlet harlot, seated on a scarlet beast, and the beast is full of names of blasphemy, and has seven heads and ten horns. The woman is gorgeously arrayed and is drunk—drunk with the blood of the saints. The beast and the horns (see R.V.) at last destroy the harlot (Revelation 17:16). Now, if the woman of chap. 12, clothed with the sun, and yet bitterly persecuted, is God’s true Church, as the whole context seems to demand, what is more likely than that this prosperous harlot is the false church? But what is the false Church? The Church of Rome? But how about the Greek Church? and the Armenian Church? and the Nestorian Church? and the Abyssinian Church? Are not these as false as Rome? I think we shall have to give up the identification of this woman with the Church of Rome. She is the false Church—any Church which puts aught in Christ’s place. In other words, she is the ecclesiastical corrupter of doctrine and practice found in all so-called churches of Christ. Christ has a real, true Church, composed of sincere believers, trusting in Him alone as the Saviour; and side by side with these, under the same external organisations, are thousands and millions who are a false Church, whose faith is in human power and human works, who pervert the truth, and whose lives are not spiritual, but carnal. These form Antichrist. They are not under any one organisation. They are under all nominally Christian organisations. This is the false Church. Do not look for either this or the true Church in one external form. Look for it in life and spirit. This is the scarlet harlot. It seeks this world’s gold and precious stones and pearls (Revelation 17:4), and has no eye for eternal realities. It has always been the oppressor of God’s true people, and the suppressor of God’s truth. It is the concreted spirit of persecution toward all that is godly. It is a Christianity that practically denies Christ, and puts human greed or human pride and pleasure in His place. It exhibits itself, not only in superstition, political power, the Inquisition and Jesuitism, but also in rationalism, scepticism and worldliness. This woman—this harlot—this false Church, is called “that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth,” because it is this false style of Christianity that controls the governments of the world, which support the Church as it does the theatre, and which sings The Deums over acts of tyranny and murder. This great city is called Babylon (Revelation 17:5), and Sodom, and Egypt, and Jerusalem, which crucified our Lord (Revelation 11:8), names indicative of hatred to God’s people and to their Lord and Redeemer. The waters on which the woman sits, we are told, are the nations of the earth (Revelation 17:15), for she proudly flourishes wherever the nominal Christian Church is found. These nations in their institutions support her. The waters and mountains also appear as a beast, the beast of chap. 13, the beast of human tyrannical power, selfish and cruel. This human power has had seven grand manifestations in history as connected with God’s people—namely, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome Pagan, Rome Christian. The first five of these had fallen in the prophet-apostle’s time (Revelation 17:10); the sixth was in existence; the seventh was still to come, but to continue only a brief period, for the beast itself has to succeed his heads and share his power with the ten horns. That is, the successors of the Roman Empire should unite with the tyranny, now not in an Empire, but in an ecclesiastical human centre. On all these phases of tyranny over man, the scarlet woman sits in her gorgeous pride. Ecclesiastical corruption flourishes on these human institutions of government. The false Church finds her aliment in these human and carnal principles of society and law. But the time will come when God’s judgment will fall on the false Church. The very beast and horns will destroy it. The carnal interests of human authority will be the means of destroying the false Christianity which they formerly supported. The wrath of man will praise God. And then the true Church—God’s faithful ones—will be vindicated and glorified.—Howard Crosby.

Revelation 17:14. The Overcoming Lamb.—A great Person is here spoken of, and a great thing, it is declared, He will accomplish.

I. Consider the Person mentioned. He is not a lamb but the Lamb. He is the great, universal Lamb, causing the blood which He shed to spread itself, as it were, all over the world, so that every sinner might touch it, and be saved from his sins. See His personal qualities.

1. His quietness. It is in marked contrast with the lion.

2. Wonderful patience. How much He bore from His enemies!

3. Perfectly innocent.

4. Capable of exercising great wrath.

II. What He shall overcome.—“The Lamb shall overcome them;” which seems to have special reference to organised Antichrist. But He shall overcome all opposers, both nations and individuals.

III. How He shall overcome His opposers.—There are two general methods. One is that of using certain means to persuade rebellious hearts to become reconciled to God. His greatest effort has always been to overcome by the passion of His love. But the second method is that of final banishment from His presence. Oh, what can feeble man do against such an all powerful being as Christ is? How utterly vain have been the threats of infidels, that they would banish Him from the world!—C. H. Wetherbe.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/revelation-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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