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Observe here, 1. The angel's invitation to the subsequent vision, One of the angels, talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee, &c.
Where we see the readiness of those ministering spirits, the holy angels, to do any good office for the saints, and with what cheerfulness they are employed about things for our consolation, and the sweet familiarity that is between them and the saints, evidenced by that expression, He talked with me, saying, Come hither.
Observe, 2. The promise which the angel makes to St. John, namely, to show him the judgment of the great whore. By the whore, all understand the city of Rome; only some will have it Rome Pagan, others Rome Papal, or the great idolatrous city and church of Rome. Idolatry is often in scripture style called whoredom; and idolaters are said to go a whoring from God. A whore is a person married to an husband, who afterwards proves false to his bed. The Papal present church of Rome deserves this name, having been guilty of the greatest defection and apostasy from the true evangelical doctrine and worship that ever was in the world; and she is deservedly also called the great whore, because of her whoredoms committed with so many under her power and jurisdiction, having many people subject to her, and for that reason is here said to sit upon many waters.
The true church is Christ's bride and spouse, she is betrothed unto him in righteousness, in loving-kindness, and in tender mercy; and at any time by idolatry to apostatize from him is spiritual whoredom, which shall not pass without deserved punishment.
Learn hence, How hateful idolatry is to God, and how highly it provokes God's wrath, even as the whoredom of a woman who plays the common harlot provokes the jealousy of her husband. Verily, never was husband more jealous of the chastity of his suspected wife, than God is jealous in point of worship.
Babylon was charged with committing whoredom in the former verse; in this the persons are declared whom she committed whoredom with, viz. with kings, and the inhabitants of the earth; that is, with all sorts of persons, small and great, rich and poor.
Where note, That she is, 1. A catholic whore, common and shameless; she refuses none that will be lewd with her.
2. A politic whore; she first draws kings and princes to commit fornication with her, and then other inhabitants; well knowing how fast the example of superiors is commonly followed by inferiors: and whereas she is said to make them drunk with the wine of her fornication, the Spirit of God seems to intimate that idolatry is like unto wine; a sensual sort of worship, and therefore alluring: making persons drunk, therefore intoxicating.
Wine is sweet, but proves deceitful; idolatry is pleasing to man's corrupt nature, but brings wrath and judgment upon the sinner.
Observe here, 1. That St. John was not in one continued ecstasy, but at several times in the spirit, that is, in an ecstasy or rapture of mind, wherein his outward senses being bound up, his understanding was fixed and raised up to the contemplation of divine objects, represented to him in the vision. A spiritual frame of mind is requisite for discerning the visions of God: He carried me away in the spirit.
Observe, 2. The place whither St. John was carried, and where he saw the following vision, namely, in the wilderness; He carried me away into the wilderness; a place of privacy, say some, where he might discern things undisturbedly and undistractedly. Solitude is fittest for contemplation. A wilderness, say others, was the fittest place to see that church in a vision, which was itself a wilderness; the apostolical church before was driven into the wilderness; here the apostate church follows her, as an harlot succeeding to a faithful city.
Observe, 3. The vision itself, I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet- coloured beast, &c. The woman here is the same with her that was called whore, Revelation 17:1. namely, idolatrous Rome; she is represented as a woman richly and splendidly arrayed, with her wealth and riches, with her pomp and power, enticing the world to her idolatry, called so often whoredom and spiritual fornication; and the golden cup in her hand is an allusion to harlots, who with their philters, or enchanted cups, do allure and provoke men to sensual satisfaction; in like manner doth Rome by her outward splendour allure, and by other specious pretences and means draw persons to idolatries and superstitions.
Note lastly, The name written on her forehead, to wit, Mystery, Babylon the Great; that is, not literal, but mystical Babylon, the great city of Rome, the mother of idolatry, the pattern of cruelty, the patroness of all impiety; and propagating all these by her power and policies, who calls herself the mother church, but is indeed the mother of harlots, and of all manner of abominations; that is, of abominable doctrines and practices.
St. John porceeds in the description of this woman; he declared her to be a filthy and common whore in the foregoing verse; in this he represents her as a cruel and bloody whore; she is said to be drunk, drunk with blood, drunk with holy blood, drunk with the blood of saints and marytrs. Behold the blood-thirstiness of the Roman church, and her insatiableness therein, even unto drunkenness.
Observe, 2. With what wonder and admiration St. John was filled, when he saw this woman drunk with blood, I wondered with great admiration; intimating, that so astonishing is the cruelty of that church, that it justly causes wonder and admiration to all that are not of her cruel and bloody disposition. I wonder that God should suffer so much of his dear servants' blood to be shed by her, and at her insatiable cruelty in shedding it.
Observe, 3. How the Spirit of God was pleased to open this mystery, which indeed is the only vision of this nature expounded throughout the whole book. He begins first with a description of the beast, affirming that he was, and yet is; as if he had said, "The Roman empire was once Pagan, now is not Pagan, but Christian, and yet is as idolatrous now as it was of old; the same it was, only in another form." Rome Papal is certainly as idolatrous, as cruel and bloody, as ever Rome Pagan was of old; yea, perhaps much more so beyond compare.
Observe next, the rise and original is declared from whence this idolatrous church should spring, namely out of the bottomless pit, because her working is after the working of Satan, with all deceivableness, with signs and lying wonders. And as its rise is declared, so is its ruin foretold; it shall go into perdition, that is, shall be finally destroyed, never to revive again: but before this destruction the world shall be under such an infatuation, that the generality of the inhabitants of the earth, some few excepted, shall wonder after the beast; that is, be wonderfully taken with him, and shall follow him with an implicit faith, paying homage and subjection to him. But these admirers and adorers of the beast are only such whose names were not written in the book of life; intimating to us, that in the times of greatest apostasy, and most universal defection from the truth, the Lord wants not his own true church: he ever had, and has, yea, ever will have, a number to stand up for his name, and bear witness to his truth.
Here the angel cometh directly to declare and unfold the mystery of the beast, premising first, that it requires heavenly wisdom in a person to understand it, and apply the marks accordingly. Here is the mind that hath wisdom, that is, the mind that hath wisdom may here exercise itself.
The seven heads, saith the angel, are seven mountains, that is, signify seven mountains: a clear description of Rome, as to its local situation, being built upon seven hills. And there are seven kings, that is, seven forms of government, by, and according to, which Rome was governed, namely, by kings, consuls, tribunes, decemviri, dictators, and emperors, that were Pagans.
Five of these were fallen in St. John's time, that is, utterly extinct, namely, the government by kings, consuls, tribunes, decemviri, and dictators. And one is, to wit, the government by Pagan emperors, which was in St. John's time in being. And the other is not yet come, that is, the government by Christian emperors was not yet in being, and when it did come, it held but a little while before the bishops of Rome wrested the government out of their hands, and took it into their own.
Behold here! the great mutability of all earthly things; governments have their periods, kingdoms come to an end. Happy they who, serving God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, have secured to themselves a kingdom that cannot be moved! Hebrews 12:28
Observe here, the angel farther explains to St. John this great mystery of the beast; declaring that the ten horns of the beast do signify ten kings, which should employ their power with the beast, and in conjunction with his established idolatry, to uphold his bloody religion; next their wicked unity is declared in giving their power and strength to the beast: They have one mind, Revelation 17:13 that is, they unanimously concur in aiding, strengthening, and assisting the beast, in using their power, and employing their authority, to maintain him in his idolatrous and Pagan-like superstitions.
Lastly it is declared for what end they thus concur together, in giving their power and strength to the beast, namely, to make war with the Lamb; that is, to take part with antichrist, and oppose Christ in his truth and gospel, in his ministers and members, in his children and servants, But the Lamb shall overcome them.
Some shall be converted by the power of the gospel, others shall be confounded, one way or other brought into subjection: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings, that is, clothed with divine power.
Christ though a meek Lamb, yet is a mighty Lord. The titles here given him show his godhead and omnipotency: and having such a power, he knows how to fit instruments for his purpose; and those whom he will make use of in this work, shall be chosen persons, and faithful in the discharge of the trust committed to them. All that are faithful to Christ, shall share with him in his victory.
Here the angel proceeds, and goes on farther in the explication of the vision. By the waters whereon the whore sat, he declares, are to be understood many and divers nations belonging to the Roman empire. Behold then of what church multitude is a note! Not of the church of Christ, his flock is a little flock; but of the antichristian synagogue which vaunts, that multitudes are on her side, The waters whereon the whore sat are multitudes, peoples, nations, and tongues. Alas, the multitude, or generality of persons, are prone to oppose that which is good, and those that do good.
Next, it is declared what instruments God will make use of as the executioners of this vengeance upon this great whore, the ten horns, that is, the ten kings which did before idolize her, and commit idolatry and spiritual whoredom with her, shall at length revolt from her, hate her, make her desolate, and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
Lord! what a strange, sudden, and mighty change, doth the power of converting grace make! Behold these ten kings, who sometimes doated upon the painted beauty of this great whore, when once their eyes shall be opened, their hearts will soon be alienated. Babylon's courts shall be crowded with suitors no longer; they shall make her desolate, by deserting her communion; make her naked, by withdrawing their former supplies afforded to her; they shall eat her flesh, feed themselves with spoils, and take her revenues to themselves; and burn her with fire, that is, shall utterly ruin and destroy her. The destruction of antichrist, once begun, shall hold on constantly, by degrees, till his final destruction.
Observe here, 1. How the infinitely wise and perfectly holy God can, and does, so order things, that all his judgments shall be executed by sinners, without his being the cause of any one of their sins; though by the permissive will of God, these kings gave their power for a time to the beast, yet they never had his aprobation for so doing. God so over-rules the actions of wicked men, that when they are doing their will, contrary to their own intentions, in and by them, the Lord is likewise doing his will. God sometimes does his will by those who resolve they will not do his will.
Observe, 2. The time when Almighty God, who permitted them to submit to the whore will put it into their hearts to hate her, and help to destroy her, namely, when his word is fulfilled. God's word shall be fulfilled in spite of Satan, and all his instruments; yea, the wicked are then fulfilling God's word and will, that is, his permissive will, when they are going on in their wickedness. God hath put it in their hearts to fulfil his will.
This is so clear a description of Rome, that the church of Rome herself acknowledges it: for if that be the city built upon seven hills, the city that allures the inhabitants of the earth to idolatry; if her idolatries be a lively image of the old Pagan idolatries; if to her many kings have given their power and strength; and if she reigneth over the kings of the earth; their remains no doubt but that this great city is Rome:--that Rome is mystical Babylon, which has shed the blood of saints and martyrs without number, and must be destroyed for so doing; no pomp nor grandeur can exempt or shall save her from the revenging hand of God, and his just indignation.
Lord! hasten that desirable time.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29