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THE BEAST AND BABYLOST.
AT the close of chap. 16, we reached the end of the three great series of judgments which constitute the chief contents of the Revelation of St. John, - the series of the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Bowls. It cannot surprise us, however, that at this point other visions of judgment are to follow. Already we had reached the end at Revelation 6:17, and again at Revelation 11:18; yet on both occasions the same general subject was immediately afterwards renewed, and the same truths were again presented to us, though in a different aspect and with heightened coloring. We are pre pared therefore to meet something of the same kind now. Yet it is not the whole history of that "little season" with which the Apocalypse deals that is brought under our notice in fresh and striking vision. One great topic, the greatest that has hitherto been spoken of, is selected for fuller treatment, - the fall of Babylon. Twice before we have heard of Babylon and of her doom, - at Revelation 14:8, when the second angel of the first group gathered around the Lord as He came to judgment exclaimed, "Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great, which hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication;" and again at Revelation 16:19, when under the seventh Bowl we were told that "Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath." So much importance, however, is attached by the Seer to the fortunes of this city that two chapters of his book - the seventeenth and the eighteenth - are devoted to the more detailed descriptions of her and of her fate. These two chapters form one of the most striking, if at the same time one of the most difficult, portions of his book. We have first to listen to the language of St. John; and, long as the passage is, it will be necessary to take the whole of chap. 17 at once: -
"And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls, and spake with me, saying, Come hither; I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters: with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell m the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication. And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication, and upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I marveled with a great marveling. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss: and he goeth into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall marvel, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall be present. Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And they are seven kings: the five are (alien, the one is me other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition. And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one mind, and they give their power and authority unto the beast. These shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they also shall overcome that are with Him called, and chosen, and faithful. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire. For God did put in their hearts to do His mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished. And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:1-18)."
The main questions connected with the interpretation of this chapter are, What are we to understand by the beast spoken of, and what by Babylon? The Seer is summoned by one of the angels that had the seven Bowls to behold a spectacle which fills him with a great marveling. Thus summoned, he obeys; and he is immediately carried away into a wilderness, where he sees a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
1. What is this beast, and what in particular is his relation to the beast of chap. 13?
At first sight the points of difference appear to be neither few nor unimportant The order of the heads and of the horns is different, the horns taking precedence of the heads in the earlier, the heads of the horns in the later, of the two.1 The first is said to have had upon "his heads" names of blasphemy; the second is "full of" such names.2 There are diadems on the horns of the former, but not of the latter.3 Of the first we are told that he comes up "out of the sea," of the second that he is about to come up "out of the abyss."4 In addition to these particulars, it will be observed that several traits of the first beast are not mentioned in connection with the second. These last points of difference may be easily set aside. They create no inconsistency between the descriptions given; and we have already had occasion for the remark, that it is the manner of the Seer to enlarge in one part of his book his account of an object also referred to in another part. His readers are expected to combine the different particulars in order to form a complete conception of the object. (1Comp. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7; 2Comp. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3; 3Comp. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:12; 4Comp. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:8)
The more positive points of difference, again, may be simply and naturally explained. In Revelation 13:1 the horns take precedence of the heads because the beast is beheld rising up out of the sea, the horns in this case appearing before the heads. In the second case, when the beast is seen in the wilderness, the order of nature is preserved. The distribution of the names of blasphemy is in all probability to be accounted for in a similar manner. At the moment when the Seer beholds them in chap. 13 his attention has been arrested by the heads of the beast, and he has not yet seen the whole body. When he beholds them in chap. 17, the entire beast is before him, and is "full of" such names. The presence of diadems upon the ten horns in the first, and their absence in the second, beast depends upon the consideration that it is a common method of St. John to dwell upon an object presented to him ideally before he treats it historically. We know that the ten horns are ten kings or kingdoms1; and the diadem is the appropriate symbol of royalty. When therefore we think of the beast in his ideal or ultimate manifestation in the ten kings of whom we are shortly to read, we think of the horns as crowned with diadems; and it is thus accordingly that we see the beast in chap. 13. On the other hand, at the point immediately before us "the ten kings have received no kingdom as yet;"2 and the diadems are wanting. The application of this principle further explains the difference between what are apparently two origins for these beasts, - "the sea" and "the abyss." The former is mentioned in chap. 13, because there we have the beast before us in himself, and in the source from which he springs. The latter is mentioned in chap. 17, because the beast has now reached a definite period of his history to which the coming up out of "the abyss" belongs. The "sea" is his real source; the "abyss" has been only his temporary abode. The monster springs out of the sea, lives, dies, goes into the abyss, rises from the dead, is roused to his last paroxysm of rage, is defeated, and passes into perdition.3 This last is his history in chap. 17, and that history is in perfect harmony with what is stated of him in chap. 13, - that by nature he comes up out of the sea. (1 Revelation 17:12; 2 Revelation 17:12; 3 Revelation 17:11)
While the points of difference between the beasts of chap. 13 and chap. 17 may thus without difficulty be reconciled, the points of agreement are such as to lead directly to the identification of the two. Some of these have already come under our notice in speaking of the differences. Others are still more striking. Thus the beast of chap. 13 is described as the vicegerent of the dragon1; and the object of the dragon is to make war upon the remnant of the woman’s seed.2 When therefore we find the beast of chap. 17 engaged in the same work, 3 we must either resort, to the most unlikely of all conclusions that the dragon has two vicegerents - or we must admit that the two beasts are one. Again, the characteristic of a rising from the dead is so unexpected and mysterious that it is extremely difficult to assign it to two different agencies; yet we formerly saw that this characteristic belongs to the beast of chap. 13, and we shall immediately see that it belongs also to that of chap. 17. Nay more, it is to be noticed that both in chap. 13 and in chap. 17 the marveling of the world after the beast is connected with his resurrection state. This was undoubtedly the case in chap. 13; and in the present chapter the cause of the world’s astonishment is not less expressly said to be its be holding in the beast how that he was, and is not, and shall be present.4 Let us add to what has been said that the figures of the Apocalypse are the product of so rich and fertile an imagination that, had a difference between the two beasts been intended, it would, we may believe, have been more distinctly marked; and the conclusion is inevitable that the beast before us is that also of the thirteenth chapter. (1 Revelation 13:2; 2 Revelation 12:17; 3 Revelation 17:14; 4 Revelation 17:8)
Turning then to the beast as here represented, we have to note one or two particulars regarding him, either new or stated with greater fullness and precision than before; while, at the same time, we have the explanation of the angel to help us in interpreting the vision.
(1) The beast was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss: and he goeth into perdition. The words are a travesty of what we read of the Son of man in chap. 1: "I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I became dead: and, behold, I am alive for evermore."1 An antichrist is before us, who has been slaughtered unto death, and the stroke of whose death shall be healed.2 Still further we seem entitled to infer that when this beast appears he shall have the marks of his death upon him. They that dwell on the earth shall marvel when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall be present. The inference is fair that there must be something visible upon him by which these different states may be distinguished. In other words, the beast exhibits marks which show that he had both died and passed through death. He is the counterpart of "the Lamb standing as though it had been slaughtered."3 (1 Revelation 1:18; 2Comp. Revelation 13:3; 3 Revelation 5:6)
(2) The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And they are seven kings: the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while. Notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary by numerous and able expositors, these words cannot be applied directly to any seven emperors of Rome. It may be granted that the Seer had the thought of Rome sitting upon its seven hills in his eye as one of the manifestations of the beast, but the whole tenor of his language is too wide and comprehensive to permit the thought that the beast itself is Rome. Besides this, the heads are spoken of as being also "mountains;" and we cannot say of any five of the seven hills of Rome that they "are fallen," or of any one of them that it is "not yet come." Nor could even any five successive kings of Rome be described as "fallen," for that word denotes passing away, not simply by death, but by violent and conspicuous over throw;1 and no series of five emperors in other respects suitable to the circumstances can be mentioned some of whom at least did not die peaceably in their beds. Finally, the word "kings" in the language of prophecy denotes, not personal kings, but kingdoms.2 These seven "mountains" or seven "kings," therefore, are the manifestations of the beast in successive eras of oppression suffered by the people of God. Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Greece are the first five; and they are "fallen" - fallen in the open ruin which they brought upon themselves by wickedness. Rome is the sixth, and "it is" in the Apostle’s days. The seventh will come when Rome, beheld by the Seer as on the brink of destruction, has perished, and when its mighty empire has been rent in pieces. These pieces will then be the ten horns which occupy the place of the seventh head. They will be even more wicked and more oppressive to the true followers of Christ than the great single empires which preceded them. In them the antichristian might of the beast will culminate. They are "ten" in number. They cover the whole "earth." That universality of dominion which was always the beast’s ideal will then become his actual possession. They receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour; and together with him they shall rage against the Lamb. Hence. - (1Comp. Revelation 6:13; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:2; 2Comp. Daniel 7:17; Daniel 7:23; Revelation 18:3)
(3) And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven. The reader will notice that the expression of the eighth verse of the chapter "and is about to come up out of the abyss," as also another expression of the same verse, "and shall be present," are here dropped. We have met with a similar omission in the case of the Lord Himself at Revelation 11:17, and the explanation now is the same as then. The beast can no more be thought of as "about to come up out of the abyss," because he is viewed as come, or as about "to be present," because he is present. In other words, the beast has attained the highest point of his history and action. He has reached a position analogous to that of our Lord after His resurrection and exaltation, when all authority was given Him both in heaven and on earth, and when He began the dispensation of the Spirit, founding His Church, strengthening her for the execution of her mission, and perfecting her for her glorious future. In like manner at the time here spoken of the beast is at the summit of his evil influence. In one sense he is the same beast as he was in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylonia, in Persia, in Greece, and in Rome. In another sense he is not the same, for the wickedness of all these earlier stages has been concentrated into one. He has "great wrath, knowing that he has but a short season."l At the last moment he rages with the keen and determined energy of despair. Thus he may be spoken of as "an eighth;" and thus he is also "of the seven," not one of the seven, but the highest, and fiercest, and most cruel embodiment of them all. Thus also he is identified with the "Little Horn" of Daniel, which has "eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things."2 That Little Horn takes the place of three out of the ten horns which are plucked up by the roots; that is, of the eighth, ninth, and tenth horns. It is thus itself an eighth; and we have already had occasion to notice that in the science of numbers the number eight marks the beginning of a new life, with quickened and heightened powers. Thus also fresh light is thrown upon the statement which so closely follows the description of the beast, that he goeth into perdition. As in the case of Belshazzar, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of the traitor Judas, the instant when he reaches the summit of his guilty ambition is also the instant of his fall. (1 Revelation 12:12; 2 Daniel 7:7-8)
Before proceeding to consider the meaning of the "Babylon" spoken of in this chapter, it may be well to recall for a moment the principle lying at the bottom of the exposition now given of the " beast." That principle is that St. John sees in the world-power, or power of the world, the contrast, or travesty, or mocking counterpart of the true Christ, of the world’s rightful King. The latter lived, died, was buried, rose from the grave, and returned to His Father to work with quickened energy and to enjoy everlasting glory; the former lived, was brought to nought by Christ, was plunged into the abyss, came up out of the abyss, reached his highest point of influence, and went into perdition. Such is the form in which the Seer’s visions take possession of his mind; and it will be seen that the mould of thought is precisely the same as that of chap. 20. The fact that it is so may be regarded as a proof that the interpretation yet to be offered of that chapter is correct.
It may be further noticed that the beast s being brought to nought and being sent into the abyss takes place under the sixth, or Roman, head. We know that this was actually the case, because it was under the Roman government that our Lord gained His victory. The history of the beast, however, does not close with this defeat. He must rise again; and he does this as the seventh head, which is associated with the ten horns. In them and "with" them he assumes a greater power than ever, gaining all the additional force which is connected with a resurrection life. The objection may indeed be made that such an exposition is not in correspondence either with the view taken in this commentary that the beast is active from the very beginning of the Christian era, or with those facts of history which show that, instead of falling, Rome continued to exist for a lengthened period after the completion of the Redeemer’s victory.
But, as to the first of these difficulties, it is not necessary to think that the beast rages in his highest and ultimate form from the very instant when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to His Father. That was rather the moment of the beast’s destruction, the moment when, under the sixth head, he "is and is not;" and a certain extent of time must be interposed before he rises in his new, or seventh, head. The Seer, too, deals largely in climax; and, although in doing so he is always occupied with the climactic idea rather than with the time needed for its manifestation, the element of time, if our attention is called to it, must be allowed its place. Now in the development of the beast there is climax. In Revelation 11:7 it is said that "the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with" the two faithful witnesses "when they shall have finished their testimony," and this finishing of their testimony implies time. Again, in Revelation 12:17 the increased wrath of the dragon against the remnant of the woman’s seed appears to be subsequent to the persecution of the woman in the same chapter (Revelation 12:13). No doubt the thought of the increased wrath of the dragon is the main point, but it may be quite truly said that some time at least is needed for the increase. The view, therefore, that the beast rages from the beginning of the Christian era, from the moment when he rises after his fall, or, in other words, is loosed after having been shut up into the abyss, is not inconsistent with the view that his rage goes on augmenting until it attains its culminating point.
The answer to the second difficulty is to be found in the consideration that to the Seer the whole Christian era appears no more than "a little season," in which events must follow closely on one another, so closely that the time required for their evolution passes almost entirely, if not indeed entirely, out of his field of vision. He has no thought that Rome will last for centuries. "The times or the seasons the Father hath set within His own authority."* The guilt of Rome is so dark and frightful that the Seer can fix his mind upon nothing but that overthrow which shall be the just punishment of her crimes. She is not to be doomed; she is doomed. She is not to perish; she is perishing. Divine vengeance has already overtaken her. Her last hour is come; and the ten kings who are to follow her are already upon their thrones. Thus these kings come into immediate juxtaposition with the beast in that last stage of his history which had begun, but had not reached its greatest intensity, before Rome is supposed to fall. (* Acts 1:7)
2. The second figure of this chapter now meets us; and we have to ask, Who is the woman that sits on the beast? or, What is meant by Babylon?
No more important question can be asked in connection with the interpretation of the Apocalypse. The thought of Babylon is evidently one by which the writer is moved to a greater than ordinary degree. Twice already have we had premonitions of her doom, and that in language which shows how deeply it was felt.* In the passage before us he is awed by the contemplation of her splendor and her guilt. And in chap. 18 he describes the lamentation of the world over her fate in language of almost unparalleled sublimity and pathos. What is Babylon? We must make up our minds upon the point, or the effort to interpret one of the most important parts of the Revelation of St. John can result in nothing but defeat. (* Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:9)
Very various opinions have been entertained as to the meaning of Babylon, of which the most famous are that the word is a name for papal Rome, pagan Rome, or a great world-city of the future which shall stand to the whole earth in a relation similar to that occupied by Re me towards the world of its day. These opinions cannot be discussed here; and no more can be attempted than to show, with as much brevity as possible, that by Babylon is to be understood the degenerate Church, or that principle of degenerate religion which allies itself with the world, and more than all else brings dishonor upon the name and the cause of Christ.
(1) Babylon is the representative of religious, not civil, degeneracy and wickedness. She is a harlot, and her name is associated with the most reckless and unrestrained fornication. But fornication and adultery are throughout the Old Testament the emblem of religious degeneracy, and not of civil misrule. In numerous passages familiar to every reader of Scripture both terms are employed to describe the departure of Israel from the worship of Jehovah and a holy life to the worship of idols and the degrading sensuality by which such worship was everywhere accompanied. Nor ought we to imagine that adultery, not fornication, is the most suitable expression for religious degeneracy. In some important respects the latter is the more suitable of the two. It brings out more strongly the ideas of playing the harlot with "many lovers"l and of sinning for "hire."2 In this sense then it seems proper to understand the charge of fornication brought in so many passages of the Apocalypse against Babylon. Not in their civil, but in their religious, aspect have the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and they that dwell on the earth been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. Her sin has been that of leading men astray from the worship of the true God, and of substituting for the purity and unworldliness of Christian living the irreligious and worldly spirit of the "earth." To this it may be added that, had Babylon not been the symbol of religious declension, she could hardly have borne upon her forehead the term MYSTERY. St. John could not have used a word connected only with religious associations to express anything but a religious state awakening the awe, and wonder, and perplexity of a religious mind. Babylon, therefore, represents persons who are not only sinful, but who have fallen into sin by treachery to a high and holy standard formerly acknowledged by them. (1 Jeremiah 3:1 2 Micah 1:7)
(2) We have already had occasion to allude to a fact which must immediately receive further notice, - that to the eye of St. John there is an aspect of Jerusalem different from that in which she is regarded as the holy and beloved city of God. Jerusalem in that aspect and Babylon are one. Each is "the great city," and the same epithet could not be applied to both were they not to be identified. Not only so. The words here used of Babylon lead us directly to what our Lord once said of Jerusalem. "Therefore," said Jesus, "behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous bloodshed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation."* Precisely similar to this is the language of the Seer, And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (* Matthew 23:34-36)
It may indeed be thought impossible that under any circumstances whatever St. John could have applied an epithet like that of Babylon, steeped in so many associations of lust, and bloodshed, and oppression, to the metropolis of Israel, the city of God. But in this very book he has illustrated the reverse. He has already spoken of Jerusalem as represented by names felt by a pious Jew to be the most terrible of the Old Testament, - "Sodom and Egypt."1 The prophets before him had employed language no less severe. "Hear the word of the Lord," said Isaiah, addressing the inhabitants of the holy city, "ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah,"2 and again, "How is the faithful city become an harlot, she that was full of judgment! righteousness lodged in her; but now murderers;"3 whilst the degenerate metropolis of Israel is not unfrequently painted by Jeremiah and Ezekiel and other prophets in colors than which none more dark or repulsive can be conceived. (1 Revelation 11:8; 2 Isaiah 1:10; 3 Isaiah 1:21)
In forming a conclusion upon this point, it is necessary to bear in mind that to the eye of the faithful in Israel, and certainly of St. John, there were two Jerusalems, the one true, the other false, to its heavenly King; and that in exact proportion to the feelings of admiration, love, and devotion with which they turned to the one were those of pain, indignation, and alienation with which they turned from the other. The latter Jerusalem, the city of "the Jews," is that of which the Apocalyptist thinks when he speaks of it as Babylon; and, looking upon the city in this aspect as he did, the whole language of the Old Testament fully justifies him in applying to it the opprobrious name.
(3) The contrast between the new Jerusalem and Babylon leads to the same conclusion. We have already more than once had occasion to allude to the principle of antithesis, or contrast, as affording an important rule of interpretation in many passages of this book. Nowhere is it more distinctly marked or more applicable than in the case before us. The contrast has been drawn out by a recent writer in the following words: -
"These prophecies present two broadly contrasted women, identified with two broadly contrasted cities, one reality being in each case doubly represented: as a woman and as a city. The harlot and Babylon are one; the bride and the heavenly Jerusalem are one.
"The two women are contrasted in every particular that is mentioned about them: the one is pure as purity itself, ‘made ready’ and fit for heaven’s unsullied holiness, the other foul as corruption could make her, fit only for the fires of destruction.
"The one belongs to the Lamb, who loves her as the bridegroom loves the bride; the other is associated with a wild beast, and with the kings of the earth, who ultimately hate and destroy her.
"The one is clothed with fine linen, and in another place is said to be clothed with the sun and crowned with a coronet of stars: that is, robed in Divine righteousness and resplendent with heavenly glory; the other is attired in scarlet and gold, in jewels and pearls, gorgeous indeed, but with earthly splendor only. The one is represented as a chaste virgin, espoused to Christ; the other is mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.
"The one is persecuted, pressed hard by the dragon, driven into the wilderness, and well-nigh overwhelmed; the other is drunken with martyr blood, and seated on a beast which has received its power from the persecuting dragon.
"The one sojourns in solitude in the wilderness; the other reigns ‘in the wilderness’ over peoples, and nations, and kindreds, and tongues.
"The one goes in with the Lamb to the marriage supper, amid the glad hallelujahs; the other is stripped, insulted, torn, and destroyed by her guilty paramours.
"We lose sight of the bride amid the effulgence of heavenly glory and joy, and of the harlot amid the gloom and darkness of the smoke that ‘rose up forever and ever.’"* (*Guinness, The Approaching End of the Age, p. 143)
A contrast presented in so many striking particulars leaves only one conclusion possible. The two cities are the counterparts of one another. But we know that by the first is represented the bride, the Lamb’s wife, or the true Church of Christ as, separated from the world, she remains faithful to her Lord, is purified from sin, and is made meet for that eternal home into which there enters nothing that defiles. What can the other be but the representative of a false and degenerate Church, of a Church that has yielded to the temptations of the world, and has turned back in heart from the trials of the wilderness to the flesh-pots of Egypt? Every feature of the description answers, although with the heightened color of ideal portraiture, to what such a professing but degenerate Church becomes, - the pride, the show, the love of luxury, the subordination of the future to the present. Even her very cruelty to the poor saints of God is drawn from actual reality, and has been depicted upon many a page of history. With the meek and lowly followers of Jesus, whose life is a constant protest that the things of time are nothing in comparison with those of eternity, none have less sympathy than those who have a name to live while they are dead. The world may admire, even while it cannot understand, these little ones, these lambs of the flock; but to those who seek the life that now is by the help of the life that is to come they are a perpetual reproach, and they are felt to be so. Therefore they are persecuted in such manner and to such degree as the times will tolerate.
One other remark has to be made upon the identification of Jerusalem and Babylon by the Seer. It has been said that he has one special aspect of the metropolis of Israel in his eye. Yet we are not to suppose that he confines himself to that metropolis. As on so many other occasions, he starts from what is limited and local only to pass in thought to what is unlimited and universal. His Jerusalem, his Babylon, is not the literal city. She is "the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters;" and "the waters which thou sawest," says the angel to the Seer, "are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues."* The fourfold division guides us, as usual, to the thought of dominion over the whole earth. Babylon is not the Jerusalem only of "the Jews." She is the great Church of God throughout the world when that Church becomes faithless to her true Lord and King. (* Revelation 17:15)
Babylon then is not pagan Rome. No doubt seven mountains are spoken of on which the woman sitteth. But this was not peculiar to Rome. Both Babylon and Jerusalem are also said to have been situated upon seven hills; and even if we had before us, as we certainly may have, a distinct reference to Rome, it would be only because Rome was one of the manifestations of the beast, and because the city afforded a suitable point of departure for a wider survey. The very closing words of the chapter, upon which so much stress is laid by those who find the harlot in pagan Rome, negative, instead of justifying, the supposition: And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Rome never possessed such universal dominion as is here referred to. She may illustrate, but she cannot exhaust, that subtler, more penetrating, and more widespread spirit which is in the Seer’s view.
Again, Babylon cannot be papal Rome. As in the last case, there may indeed be a most intimate connection between her and one of the manifestations of Babylon. But it is impossible to speak of the papal Church as the guide, the counselor, and the inspirer of anti-Christian efforts to dethrone the Redeemer, and to substitute the world or the devil in His stead. The papal Church has toiled, and suffered, and died for Christ. Babylon never did so.
Nor, finally, can we think of Babylon as a great city of the future which shall stand to the kings and kingdoms of the earth in a relation similar to that in which ancient Rome stood to the kings and kingdom? of her day. Wholly apart from the impossibility of our forming any clear conception of such a city, the want of the religious or spiritual element is fatal to the theory.
One explanation alone seems to meet the conditions of the case. Babylon is the world in the Church. In whatever section of the Church, or in whatever age of her history, an unspiritual and earthly element prevails, there is Babylon.
We have spoken of the two great figures of this chapter separately. We have still to speak of their relation to one another, and of the manner in which if is brought suddenly and forever to a close.
This relation appears in the words, I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, and in later words of the chapter: the beast that carrieth her. The woman then is not subordinate to the beast, but is rather his controller and guide. And this relation is precisely what we should expect. The beast is before us in his final stage, in that immediately preceding his own destruction. He is no longer in the form of Egypt, or Assyria, or Babylonia, or Persia, or Greece, or Rome. These six forms of his manifestation have passed away. The restrainer has been withdrawn,1 and the beast has stepped forth in the plenitude of his power. He has been revealed as the "ten horns" which occupy the place of the seventh head; and these ten horns are ten kings who, having now received their kingdoms and with their kingdoms their diadems, are the actual manifestation in history of the beast as he had been seen in his ideal form in chap. 13. The beast is therefore the spirit of the world, partly in its secularizing influence, partly in its brute force, in that tyranny and oppression which it exercises against the children of God. The woman, again, is the spirit of false religion and religious zeal, which had shown itself under all previous forms of worldly domination, and which was destined to show itself more than ever under the last To the eye of St. John this spirit was not confined to Christian times. The woman, considered in herself, is not simply the false Christian Church. She is so at the moment when we behold her on the field of history. But St. John did not believe that saving truth, the truth which unites us to Christ, the truth which is "of God," was to be found in Christianity alone. It had existed in Judaism. It had existed even in Heathenism, for in his Gospel he remembers and quotes the words of our Lord in which Jesus says, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock, one Shepherd."2 As then Divine truth, the light which never ceases to con tend with the darkness, had been present in the world under every one of its successive kingdoms, so also perversions of that truth had never failed to be present by its side. All along the line of past history, in Heathenism as well as in Judaism, the ideal bride of Christ had been putting on her ornaments to meet the Bridegroom; and not less all along the same line had the harlot been arraying herself in purple and scarlet and decking herself with gold and precious stones and jewels, that she might tempt men to resist the influence of their rightful King. The harlot had been always thus superior to the beast. The beast had only the powers of this world at his command; the harlot wielded the powers of another and a higher world. The one dealt only with the seen and temporal, the other with the unseen and eternal, the one with material forces, the other with those spiritual forces which reach the profoundest depths of the human heart and give rise to the greatest movements of human history. The woman is therefore superior to the beast. She inspires and animates him. The beast only lends her the material strength needed for the execution of her plans. In the war, accordingly, which is carried on by the ten kings who have one mind, and who give their power and authority unto the beast, in the war which the beast and they, with their combined power, wage for one hour against the Lamb, it would be a great mistake to suppose that the woman, although she is not mentioned, takes no part and exerts no influence. She is really there, the prime mover in all its horrors. The "one mind" comes from her. The beast can do nothing of himself. The ten kings who are the form in which he appears are not less weak and helpless. They have the outward power, but they cannot regulate it. They want the skill, the subtlety, the wisdom, which are found only in the spiritual domain. But the great harlot, who at this point of history is the perversion of Christian truth, is with them; and they depend on her. Such is the first part of the relation between the beast and the harlot. (1Comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 ; John 10:16)
A second, most unexpected and most startling, follows.
We have seen that in the war between the ten kings and the Lamb the woman is present. That war ends in disaster to her and to those whom she inspires. The Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings. The name is the same as that which we shall afterwards meet in Revelation 19:16, though the order of the clauses is different. This Lamb, therefore, is here the Conqueror described in Revelation 19:11-16; and many particulars of these latter verses take us back to the Son of man as He appeared in chap. 1, or, in other words, to the risen and glorified Redeemer. The thought of the risen Christ is thus in the mind of St. John when he speaks of the Lamb who shall overcome. The leaders of the Jewish Church had believed that they had for ever rid themselves of the Prophet who "tormenteth them that dwell on the earth."* They had sealed the stone, and set a watch, and returned to their homes for joy and merriment. But on the third morning there was a great earthquake, and the stone was rolled away from the door of the sepulchre; and the Crucified came forth, the Conqueror of death and Hades. Then the Lamb overcame. Then He began His victorious progress as King of kings and Lord of lords. Then the power and the wisdom of the world were alike put to shame. Was not this enough? No, for now follow the words which come upon us in a way so wholly unexpected: And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire. (*Comp. Revelation 11:10)
What is the meaning of these words? Surely not that Rome was to be attacked and overthrown by the barbaric hordes that burst upon her from the North: for, in the first place, the Roman manifestation of the world-power had passed away before the ten kings came to their kingdom; and, in the second place, when Rome fell, she fell as the beast, not as the harlot. Surely also not that a great world-city, concentrating in itself all the resources of the world-power, is to be hated and burned by its subjects, for we have already seen that this whole notion of a great world-city of the end is groundless; and the resources of the world- power are always in this book concentrated in the beast, and not in the harlot who directs their use. There seems only one method of explaining the words, but it is one in perfect consonance with the method and purpose of the Apocalypse as a whole. As on many other occasions, the fortunes of the Church of Christ are modeled upon the fortunes of her Master. With that Master the Church was one. He had always identified His people with Himself, in life and death, in time and in eternity. Could the beloved disciple do otherwise? He looked round upon the suffering Church of his day. He was a "companion with it in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience which are in Jesus."* He felt all its wounds and shared all its sorrows, just as he felt and shared the wounds and sorrows of that Lord who lived in him, and in whom he lived. Here, therefore, was the mould in which the fortunes of the Church appeared to him. He went back to well-remembered scenes in the life of Christ; and he beheld these repeating themselves, in principle at least, in the members of His Body. (* Revelation 1:9)
Now there was one scene of the past - how well does he remember it, for he was present at the time! - when the Roman power and a degenerate Judaism, the beast and the harlot of the day, combined to make war upon the Lamb. For a moment they seemed to succeed, yet only for a moment. They nailed the Lamb to the cross; but the Lamb overcame them, and rose in triumph from the grave. But the Seer did not pause there. He looked a few more years onward, and what did he next behold? That wicked partnership was dissolved. These companions in crime had turned round upon one another. The harlot had counseled the beast, and the beast had given the harlot power, to execute the darkest deed which had stained the pages of human history. But the alliance did not last The alienation of the two from each other, restrained for a little by co-operation in common crime, burst forth afresh, and deepened with each passing year, until it ended in the march of the Roman armies into Palestine, their investment of the Jewish capital, and that sack and burning of the city which still remain the most awful spectacle of bloodshed and of ruin that the world has seen. Even this is not all. St. John looks still further into the future, and the tragedy is repeated in the darker deeds of the last "hour." There will again be a "beast" in the brute power of the ten kings of the world, and a harlot in a degenerate Jerusalem, animating and controlling it The two will again direct their united energies against the true Church of Christ, the "called, and chosen, and faithful." They may succeed; it will be only for a moment. Again the Lamb will overcome them; and in the hour of defeat the sinful league between them will be broken, and the world-power will hate the harlot, and make her desolate and naked, and eat her flesh, and burn her utterly with fire.
This is the prospect set before us in these words, and this the consolation of the Church under the trials that await her at the end of the age. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever: but Thou, O Lord, art on high for evermore. For, lo, Thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, Thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered."* (* Psalms 92:7-9)
Babylon is fallen, not indeed in a strictly chronological narrative, for she will again be spoken of as if she still existed upon earth. But for the time her overthrow has been consummated, her destruction is complete, and all that is good can only rejoice at the spectacle of her fate. Hence the opening verses of the next chapter.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 17". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17