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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Revelation 17



Other Authors
Verses 1-6

The Kingdom of Anti-Christ Symbolized by the Great Harlot.

The vision of the great harlot:

v. 1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters,

v. 2. with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.

v. 3. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

v. 4. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication;

v. 5. and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.

v. 6. 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 wondered with great admiration.

Although this chapter makes the impression of an independent vision, it is very closely connected with the foregoing chapter and with the plagues of the seven angels, as the introduction shows: And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven vials, and spoke with me, saying, Come, I shall show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sits upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and those that inhabit the earth have become drunk with the wine of her fornication. One of the special messengers of the Lord that had poured out the vials of His wrath upon the kingdom of Anti-Christ and upon all his servants took John along to show him the doom, the execution of the sentence upon the anti-Christian harlot. With emphasis she is called the great harlot, for her impudence and shamelessness have become a proverb and a byword among the nations. It was a powerful harlot, for she exerted her authority over many waters, over many peoples; and it was a wily harlot, for she had induced the kings and princes of the earth to commit fornication with her, she had gained such power over them by her trickery that they willingly carried out her desires, and she had made all nations drunk with the wine of her fornication, with the glamour and pomp of her false doctrines, causing them to forget the love which they should bear to Jesus Christ alone.

John himself saw this harlot: And he took me away into a desert in the spirit. The prophet's soul and mind were dissociated from his body for a short while, in order that he might see this picture: And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast covered with names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns; and the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and wore ornaments of gold and precious stone and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand filled with the abominations and the filthiness of her fornication, and on her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth. The impression of the whole picture is one of abhorrence mingled with surprise that the great harlot should have succeeded so well with her designs against the earth and its inhabitants. Everywhere there is a lavish display of barbarous splendor, together with a repulsive show of the traffic in blood and in filth. The beast on which she is sitting is scarlet-colored and covered with blasphemous titles to take away the honor from the Lord of heaven, and its seven heads and ten horns make a strange and fearful combination. The woman herself, clothed with the garments of kings and bedecked with jewels which represent the riches of the world, all of which she had gathered in the course of her unspeakable traffic, had a cup of gold in her hand, the most dangerous feature in the picture, for it was filled with all the abominations and the filth of her fornication, of her adulterous life, with the doctrines of Satan, who tries to deceive the whole world. But on the forehead of the harlot John saw names which she had not inscribed there, for it explained to all men that would read just who and what this woman was. It was a name of mystery that was written there, as the Coptic version of the New Testament has it, and it told all men that this was Babylon the Great, the personification of the kingdom of Anti-Christ. And as she herself had left the Lord of her youth, so she had now become the mother of all other adulterous and idolatrous people in the world and the mother of all the greatest abominations on the earth.

The disgusting impression of the picture is heightened by the last part of the description: And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, and I wondered, when I saw her, with a great wonder (a great amount of wondering). The kingdom of Anti-Christ is the devil's harlot, and since he is a murderer from the beginning, she has joined him in shedding the blood of saints and of witnesses of Christ, until she is in a continual state of inebriation as a result of the great amount of blood which she has consumed. No wonder that John stood fascinated by the very horror of the woman's aspect. See Isa_1:21.

Verse 7-8

The mystery of the woman:

v. 7. 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 ten horns.

v. 8. The beast that thou sawest was and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition; and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was and is not and yet is.

The angel noticed the look of horrified wonder on the face of John, and hastened to enlighten him: And the angel said unto me, For what reason didst thou wonder? I shall tell thee the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her that has the seven heads and the ten horns. The angel himself undertakes to explain to the seer what he could not have guessed or explained, to reveal the mystery of the great harlot and of the beast that served as beast of burden for her shameless self and the abominations of her filth.

The angel now first explains the meaning of the beast: The beast that thou sawest was and is not, and will ascend out of the abyss and go into perdition; and they that live on the earth will marvel, whose name is not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that it was and is not, and yet is present. Here is the first step in the solution of the mystery which causes the harlot, the kingdom of Anti-Christ, to be connected with the beast, the Roman Empire. For it is the Roman Empire upon which the Church of Anti-Christ is sitting, in itself a continuation of the ancient Roman world empire. For the latter was before the kingdom of Anti-Christ; then it came to an end in 476, when the Germanic hordes conquered Rome; then, to the great surprise of all those that have its mark on their foreheads, it arose out of the abyss once more; it was revealed in all its hideousness by the Reformation and has lost its unlimited influence; and yet it is present to this day, being destined to eternal perdition on the last day.

Verses 9-14

The explanation of the heads, the beasts, and the horns:

v. 9. And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth.

v. 10. And there are seven kings; five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

v. 11. And the beast that was and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

v. 12. And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet, but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

v. 13. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

v. 14. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is the Lord of lords and King of kings; and they that are with Him are called and chosen and faithful.

As the angel tells John, it is not an easy matter to understand the mystery here revealed: Here is the mind that has wisdom. Here is work for the discerning mind, to be able to tell what the meaning of the various features in the picture is. He explains: The seven heads are seven mountains, where the woman sits on them. The city of seven hills Rome is called, and so this reference to the Church of Anti-Christ, to the Church of Rome, is clear; for Rome was the seat of the Pope from the beginning, and all the adherents of papacy recognize Rome as the capital of their empire.

But there is another interpretation: And there are seven kings; five have fallen, one now is in existence, the other is not yet come, and when he comes, he is destined to remain but a short while, The Roman Empire is here conceived of as the continuation of the ancient world empires, of which five had fallen, the Egyptian, the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Greek-Macedonian. At the time when John wrote, the Roman Empire was in power. And as for the seventh ruler and empire, that is undoubtedly to be found in the Christianized Roman Empire, in the kingdom of Anti-Christ. The papal state, indeed, was not of great extent, but the dominion of the Pope, during the thousand years of his kingdom, reached far beyond the boundaries of his province, and his influence and authority are still evident in the life of the nations. This fact is shown also in the next verse: And the beast that was and is not is itself the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition. So it is the so-called spiritual power of popery which is here alluded to, whose temporal empire is now a negligible factor, and which still wants to be recognized as an empire.

In just what manner the papacy exerts its power is next indicated: And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, such as have not yet received a kingdom; but they will receive power as kings for one hour with the beast. These are of one mind, and they give their strength and their power to the beast. Here there is a reference to the ten great provinces into which the Roman Empire was divided. At the time of John's vision these provinces were not yet independent, but they later became autonomous and had their own rulers. Their heirs and successors may be found in practically the entire world today. And of the great majority of rulers and states it is true that they have directly or indirectly furthered the cause of the beast, of Anti-Christ. No matter how dissimilar they may be otherwise, in their admiration for the papacy they are all alike, and they place themselves, more or less directly, into the power of Anti-Christ, to be used as the tool of the Pope.

The climax is reached in the next verse: These will wage war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for the Lord of lords He is and the King of kings, and with Him are the called and the elect and the faithful. It is not only a defensive. alliance which the rulers of the world have made with Anti-Christ, but also a coalition for offensive tactics. Again and again not only Roman princes and rulers, but also such as professed the Protestant faith have become the instruments of Rome in attempting to suppress the true Gospel-preaching with all the means at their disposal. But what will their puny attempts avail in the end? In waging war with the Lamb, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, their inevitable end is destruction. And in overthrowing these enemies, the Lamb incidentally protects them that are His, those whom He has called, those whom He has chosen, those that are faithful to Him to the end.

Verses 15-18

The conclusion of the explanation:

v. 15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.

v. 16. And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

v. 17. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

v. 18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

The angel here takes up his interpretation anew, in order to give the explanation of certain features of the picture shown above: And he says to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot is sitting, peoples and multitudes they are, and nations and tongues. The angel fittingly describes the Church of the Pope as the great harlot sitting on many waters, that is, as one occupying a proud throne over many peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues, ruling them by her power and seducing them into the fornication of her idolatry.

And now a peculiar fact is noted: And the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast, these will hate the harlot, and they will lay her waste and strip her naked; and they will eat her flesh, and they will burn her with fire; for God has given into their hearts to carry out His intention, and to execute their single purpose, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. It is a strange fact, but one borne out sufficiently well by many pages of history, that the very rulers and prince; who received power and authority with the beast, at certain times turned against the rule of Anti-Christ, especially as to his meddling in temporal affairs. Even before the Reformation, for more than a century, complaints were lodged against the usurpation of the Roman hierarchy, and a number of councils attempted to adjust matters. And since the Reformation many of the rulers of the world, in spite of their outward adherence to the Church of Rome, have plundered her institutions, stripped her of her worldly power and goods, and left her comparatively destitute and helpless. Even the Pope's own temporal kingdom, a strip of land in Italy, has been taken from him, and he now sits in his immense palace, the Vatican, calling himself a prisoner. That was one phase of God's judgment upon the antichristian beast; these rulers carried out the intention and purpose which He put into their hearts.

But the power of Anti-Christ is by no means exhausted: And the woman which thou sawest is the great city which has regal authority over the kingdoms of the earth. So the final Judgment has not yet come upon the Church of Rome, upon the kingdom of Anti-Christ. Rome still is a very powerful empire, which must be reckoned with; she still has kingly authority over many rulers of the world; she is still able to bedeck herself with the ornaments of her idolatrous and adulterous traffic, and many thousands there are that are impressed by this pomp and yield to her entreaties. May God mercifully hold His sheltering hand over all true Christians!


The Church of Anti-Christ is described in full in the picture of a great harlot, combining temporal and spiritual power in an authority extending even over the rulers of the world, in. spite of the fact that these vassals have repeatedly stripped her of power and wealth.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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