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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 17

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

I will show thee (δειξω σο). Future active of δεικνυμ. It is fitting that one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls should explain the judgment on Babylon (Revelation 16:19) already pronounced (Revelation 14:8). That is now done in chapters Revelation 17:17; Revelation 17:18.

The judgment of the great harlot (το κριμα της πορνης της μεγαλης). The word κριμα is the one used about the doom of Babylon in Jeremiah 51:9. Already in Revelation 14:8 Babylon is called the harlot. Πορνης is the objective genitive, "the judgment on the great harlot."

That sitteth upon many waters (της καθημενης επ υδατων πολλων). Note triple use of the article της. In Jeremiah 51:13 we have εφ' υδασ πολλοις (locative in place of genitive as here). Babylon got its wealth by means of the Euphrates and the numerous canals for irrigation. Rome does not have such a system of canals, but this item is taken and applied to the New Babylon in Revelation 17:15. Nahum (Nahum 3:4) calls Nineveh a harlot, as Isaiah (Isaiah 23:16) does Tyre.

Verse 2

The kings of the earth (ο βασιλεις της γης). Repeated in Revelation 1:5; Revelation 6:15; Revelation 17:18; Revelation 18:3; Revelation 18:9; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 21:24 and "the kings of the inhabited earth" (Revelation 16:14) either for human rulers in general or the vassal kings absorbed by the Roman Empire.

Committed fornication (επορνευσαν). First aorist active indicative of πορνευω. "In purchasing the favour of Rome by accepting her suzerainty and with it her vices and idolatries" (Swete).

Were made drunken (εμεθυσθησαν). First aorist passive indicative of μεθυσκω, old verb (from μεθυ), as in Luke 12:45, here only in the Apocalypse. Cf. Isaiah 51:7 and πεποτικεν in Revelation 14:8. See Revelation 18:3.

Verse 3

He carried me away (απηνεγκεν με). Second aorist active indicative of αποφερω, to bear away, prophetic aorist. This verb is used of angels at death (Luke 16:22) or in an ecstasy (Revelation 21:10 and here).

In the Spirit (εν πνευματ). Probably his own spirit, though the Holy Spirit is possible (Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:2; Revelation 21:10), without Paul's uncertainty (2 Corinthians 12:2). Cf. Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:24.

Into a wilderness (εις ερημον). In Isaiah 21:1 there is το οραμα της ερημου (the vision of the deserted one, Babylon), and in Isaiah 14:23 Babylon is called ερημον. John may here picture this to be the fate of Rome or it may be that he himself, in the wilderness (desert) this side of Babylon, sees her fate. In Revelation 21:10 he sees the New Jerusalem from a high mountain.

Sitting (καθημενην). Present middle participle of καθημα as in verse Revelation 17:1. "To manage and guide the beast" (Vincent).

Upon a scarlet-coloured beast (επ θηριον κοκκινον). Accusative with επ here, though genitive in verse Revelation 17:1. Late adjective (from κοκκος, a parasite of the ilex coccifera), a crimson tint for splendour, in Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16; Matthew 27:28; Hebrews 9:19.

Full of names of blasphemy (γεμοντα ονοματα βλασφημιας). See Revelation 13:1 for "names of blasphemy" on the seven heads of the beast, but here they cover the whole body of the beast (the first beast of Revelation 13:1; Revelation 19:20). The harlot city (Rome) sits astride this beast with seven heads and ten horns (Roman world power). The beast is here personified with masculine participles instead of neuter, like θηριον (γεμοντα accusative singular, εχων nominative singular, though some MSS. read εχοντα), construction according to sense in both instances. The verb γεμω always has the genitive after it in the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:6; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 21:9) save here and apparently once in Revelation 17:4.

Verse 4

Was arrayed (ην περιβεβλημενη). Periphrastic past perfect indicative of περιβαλλω, to fling round one.

In purple and scarlet (πορφυρουν κα κοκκινον). Accusative retained after this passive verb of clothing, as so often. Πορφυρους is old adjective for purple (from πορφυρα), in N.T. only here and John 19:2; John 19:5. See preceding verse for κοκκινος.

Decked (κεχρυσωμενη). Perfect passive participle of χρυσοω, old verb, to gild, to adorn with gold, here alone in N.T.

With gold and precious stone and pearls (χρυσιω κα λιθω τιμιω κα μαργαριταις). Instrumental case. Χρυσιω is cognate with the participle. Λιθω τιμιω is collective (Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 21:19). There is a ζευγμα also with μαργαριταις (Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 21:21), for which word see Matthew 7:6. Probably John is thinking of the finery of the temple prostitutes in Asia Minor.

Full of abominations (γεμον βδελυγματων). Agreeing with ποτηριον, "cup" (neuter singular accusative). Some MSS. read γεμων (nominative masculine like εχων in verse Revelation 17:3, quite irregular). For βδελυγματων (genitive after γεμον) see Matthew 24:15; (Mark 13:14), common in the LXX for idol worship and its defilements (from βδελυσσω, to render foul), both ceremonial and moral. See Jeremiah 15:7.

Even the unclean things of her fornication (κα τα ακαθαρτα της πορνειας αυτης). Either the accusative after γεμον as in verse Revelation 17:3 (and full of the unclean things of her fornication) or the object of εχουσα, like ποτηριον.

Verse 5

Upon her forehead a name written (επ το μετωπον αυτης ονομα γεγραμμενον). Roman harlots wore a label with their names on their brows (Seneca, Rhet. I. 2. 7; Juvenal VI. 122f.), and so here. In Revelation 19:16 Christ has a name on his garments and on his thigh, while in Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4 the redeemed have the name of God on their foreheads. There is undoubtedly a contrast between this woman here and the woman in chapter Revelation 17:12.

Mystery (μυστηριον). Either in apposition with ονομα or as part of the inscription on her forehead. In either case the meaning is the same, that the name Babylon is to be interpreted mystically or spiritually (cf. πνευματικως Revelation 11:8) for Rome.

The Mother of the Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth (Hη Μητηρ των Πορνων κα των Βδελυγματων της Γης). The Metropolis of the Empire is the mother of harlotry and of the world's idolatries. Charles quotes Tacitus (Ann. XV. 44) about Rome as the city "quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque_."

Verse 6

Drunken with the blood of the saints (μεθυουσαν εκ του αιματος των αγιων). Present active feminine accusative singular participle of μεθυω, old verb, to be drunk (Matthew 24:49).

Of the martyrs of Jesus (των μαρτυρων Ιησου). "Witnesses" (Revelation 2:13) for Jesus (objective genitive) unto blood (Revelation 16:6; Revelation 18:24) and so martyrs in the modern sense of the word. "Drunk with blood" is a common idea with the ancients (Euripides, Josephus, Philo, Cicero, Pliny).

With a great wonder (θαυμα μεγα). Cognate accusative with εθαυμασα.

Verse 7

I will tell thee the mystery (εγω ερω σο το μυστηριον). The angel gives his interpretation of the woman and the beast (Revelation 17:7-18). Ερω is the future active of ειπον (defective verb), to tell, to say.

Verse 8

Was and is not (ην κα ουκ εστιν). Imperfect and present of ειμ, an apparent antithesis to ο ην κα ο ων of Revelation 1:4. This is a picture of the beast of Revelation 13:1 which the woman is riding, but no longer just the empire, but one of the emperors who died (ουκ εστιν, is not).

And is about to come up out of the abyss (κα μελλε αναβαινειν εκ της αβυσσου). That is, he is going to come to life again.

And to go into perdition (κα εις απωλειαν υπαγε). So (and he goes into perdition) the best MSS. read rather than the infinitive υπαγειν. Most interpreters see here an allusion to the "Nero redivivus" expectancy realized in Domitian, who was ruling when John wrote and who was called Nero redivivus.

Shall wonder (θαυμασθησοντα). First future passive (deponent) of θαυμαζω, with which compare εθαυμασθη in Revelation 13:3. John had wondered (εθαυμασα) in verse Revelation 17:6 "with the amazement of a horrible surprise; the world will wonder and admire" (Swete).

Whose name (ων ονομα). Singular ονομα, like πτωμα in Revelation 11:8. See Revelation 13:8 for the same description of those who worship the beast and for discussion of details.

When they behold (βλεποντων). Genitive plural of the present active participle of βλεπω, agreeing with ων (genitive relative) rather than with ο κατοικουντες (nominative just before ων).

How that (οτ). "Namely that."

He was, and is not, and shall come (ην κα ουκ εστιν κα παρεστα). Repetition of what is in verse Revelation 17:7 with παρεστα (future of παρειμ, from which παρουσια comes) in place of μελλε, "parody of the divine name" (Charles) in Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8, "as the hellish antitype of Christ." The Neronic Antichrist has also a παρουσια.

Verse 9

Here is the mind which hath wisdom (Hωδε ο νους ο εχων σοφιαν). "Here is the intelligence which has wisdom" (Charles). A variation of Revelation 13:18, but the same idea.

Seven mountains (επτα ορη). Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Cicero, etc.).

On which (οπου--επ' αυτων). "Where--upon them." Pleonasm like οπου--εκε in Revelation 12:6. In Revelation 13:1 it is the beast that has the seven heads, while here the woman riding the beast has seven heads, a slight change in the symbolism, and the heads are further identified as kings.

Verse 10

Seven kings (βασιλεις επτα). This is another change in the symbolism. The identification of these seven kings is one of the puzzles of the book.

The five are fallen (ο πεντε επεσαν). Second aorist active indicative of πιπτω with the -αν ending. Common for the downfall of kings (Ezekiel 29:5; Ezekiel 30:6; Isaiah 21:9, etc.). See 2 Samuel 3:38.

The one is (ο εις εστιν). The one when this vision is dated.

The other is not yet come (ο αλλος ουπω ηλθεν). Prophetic second aorist active of ερχομα. Charles takes this as the date of this "source" or part of the Apocalypse. But John could himself have used this language in the time of Domitian even if he was the one who had not yet come. The difficulty about counting these emperors is that Galba, Otho, Vitellius reigned so briefly that they hardly merit being included.

When he cometh (οταν ελθη). Indefinite temporal clause for the future, with οταν and the second aorist active subjunctive of ερχομα, "whenever he comes."

He must continue a little while (ολιγον αυτον δε μεινα). Swete takes this to be Titus, who died September 13, 81, after a short reign.

Verse 11

Is himself also an eighth and is of the seven (κα αυτος ογδοος κα εκ των επτα). This is the angel's interpretation and it looks like a reference to Domitian as the eighth, who is regarded as one of the seven because he was considered a second Nero (Nero redivivus). For εκ των επτα see Acts 21:8. John may have used εκ των instead of εις εκ των to avoid absolute identity between Domitian and Nero (Beckwith).

And he goeth unto perdition (κα εις απωλειαν υπαγε). As in verse Revelation 17:8. "Domitian was assassinated (September 18, 96), after a terrible struggle with his murderers. The tyrant's end was a symbol of the end to which the Beast which he personated was hastening" (Swete). Cf. Revelation 19:11-21.

Verse 12

Which have received no kingdom as yet (οιτινες βασιλειαν ουπω ελαβον). Second aorist (proleptic and prophetic) active indicative of λαμβανω. The heads are emperors and the horns are kings (both called βασιλεις).

As kings (ως βασιλεις). Compared to kings (see ως in Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:6; Revelation 9:7; Revelation 13:3; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 16:21) without identification with the emperors, though succeeding them with "quasi-imperial powers" with the beast.

For one hour (μιαν ωραν). Accusative of extent of time, and that a brief time (Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19) in comparison with the beast (Revelation 13:2).

Verse 13

Have one mind (μιαν γνωμην εχουσιν). "One purpose" (γνωμη from γινωσκω) as in Acts 20:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10. The new powers are allies of the beast.

They give their power and authority unto the beast (την δυναμιν κα την εξουσιαν αυτων τω θηριω διδοασιν). Present active indicative of διδωμ. Just as the dragon gave both power and authority to the beast (Revelation 13:2), so they are wholly at the service of the beast.

Verse 14

These (ουτο). These ten kings.

Shall war against the Lamb (μετα του θηριου πολεμησουσιν). Future active of πολεμεο, to war. As allies of the beast (the servant of the dragon, Revelation 12:7) they will wage war with the Lamb (the enemy of the dragon). These kings gather for battle as in Revelation 16:13.

And the Lamb shall overcome them (κα το αρνιον νικησε αυτους). Future active of νικαω. This is the glorious outcome, victory by the Lamb over the coalition of kings as against the beast before.

For he is Lord of lords and King of kings (οτ Κυριος κυριων εστιν κα Βασιλευς βασιλεων). The same words are again descriptive of Christ in Revelation 19:16, as of God in Deuteronomy 10:17 (God of gods and Lord of lords) and Daniel 10:17 (God of gods and Lord of kings). Cf. also 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 1:5. Crowned heads are Christ's subjects.

And they also shall overcome that are with him (κα ο μετ' αυτου). "And those with him shall also overcome" (supply νικησουσιν, not εισιν). They will share in the triumph of the Lamb, as they shared in the conflict. Cf. μετα του θηριου in verse Revelation 17:12.

Called and chosen and faithful (κλητο κα εκλεκτο κα πιστο). These are the three notes of those who share in the victory. For κλητος and εκλεκτος see Matthew 22:14 (contrasted); Romans 8:28; 2 Peter 1:10; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:13. The elect are called and prove faithful.

Verse 15

Where the harlot sitteth (ου η πορνος καθητα). Relative adverb ου (where) referring to the waters (υδατα) of verse Revelation 17:1 on which the harlot sits. Present middle indicative of καθημα.

Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues (λαο κα οχλο εισιν κα εθνη κα γλωσσα). The O.T. uses "waters" as symbol for "peoples" (Isaiah 8:7; Jeremiah 47:2; Psalms 29:10, etc.). "Rome's greatest danger lay in the multitudes which were under her sway" (Swete).

Verse 16

These shall hate the harlot (ουτο μισησουσιν την πορνην). Future active of μισεω. Hουτο is resumptive demonstrative pronoun (masculine) referring to the ten horns and the beast (neuter); construction according to sense. The downfall of Rome will come from the sudden change in subject peoples.

Shall make her desolate and naked (ηρημωμενην ποιησουσιν αυτην κα γυμνην). Future active of ποιεω and perfect passive predicate accusative participle of ερημοω, old verb (from ερημος desolate), again in Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19. Γυμνην (naked) is predicate adjective.

Shall eat her flesh (τας σαρκας αυτης φαγοντα). Future middle of the defective verb εσθιω, to eat. Note plural σαρκας, portions of flesh (James 5:3) as in Psalms 27:2; Micah 3:3.

Shall burn her utterly with fire (αυτην κατακαυσουσιν εν πυρ). Future active of κατακαιω, to burn down (perfective use of καιω). John wrote before the days of Alaric, Genseric, Ricimer, Totila, with their hordes which devastated Rome and the west in the fifth and sixth centuries. "No reader of the Decline and Fall can be at a loss for materials which will at once illustrate and justify the general trend of St. John's prophecy" (Swete).

Verse 17

Did put (εδωκεν). "Did give" (first aorist active of διδωμ.

To do his mind (ποιησα την γνωμην αυτου). Epexegetic first aorist active infinitive of ποιεω after εδωκεν, as often in this book. They are of one mind (verse Revelation 17:13) because God put them up to it, clear statement of God's over-ruling hand among the nations.

Until the words of God should be accomplished (αχρ τελεσθησοντα ο λογο του θεου). Temporal clause about the future with αχρ (like εως), with the future indicative of τελεω, but with aorist passive subjunctive τελεσθωσιν in Revelation 15:8. For τελεω see also Revelation 10:7. For "the words of God" see Revelation 19:9. They will be fulfilled.

Verse 18

The woman (η γυνη). She is now explained after the beast has been interpreted. Verse Revelation 17:9 made it plain enough, but this verse demonstrates that the woman is the city of Rome "which reigneth (η εχουσα βασιλειαν, the one having a kingdom) over the kings of the earth (επ των βασιλεων της γης)." Rome followed Babylon, and other cities may follow in their train.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/revelation-17.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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