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Bible Commentaries

William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation
Revelation 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-8

Chapter 14: The Judgment of Babylon

Introductory

We are not able to resist the conclusion that there is a double destruction before our eyes in these two chapters.

1. The overthrow of the woman in chapter 17 is accomplished by the Beast and his ten kings.

2. The Beast and his ten kings are being at the time adulated by the earth, the Beast himself universally worshipped (except by God's elect). All the kings and powers of the earth are subject to him, as we saw in chapter 13.

3. The Beast, his kings, and of course the whole earth with them, join in the destruction of the harlot, whom we see at the beginning of chapter 17 riding the revived Roman Beast.

4. Evidently Romanism, with its situation on the Seven Hills of Rome, is indicated by this woman, "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." The whole earth, with its kings, is delighted at the removal of the last vestige of this hateful harlot, who really has been a burden, spiritual, mental, political, and financial, to all the nations over which she has held sway; although they committed spiritual "fornication" with her: that is, she pronounced them "Christian," and they gave her money and "reverence."

5. But in chapter 18 everything is reversed. While the destroying of the drunken harlot, "mystery Babylon," was a delight and a relief to all the earth, the overthrow of the great city Babylon in chapter 18 is exactly the opposite. The kings of the earth wail and lament over the smoke of her burning!

6. Instead of being an external directress of the last empire, the Babylon of chapter 18 is the beloved capital of the whole earth's activities, and for this cause men mourn her overthrow.

7. The Beast and his ten kings could not have destroyed the harlot in "one hour"; but such is declared to be the suddenness of the doom of the great city of chapter 18. "One day," and "one hour," God says.

8. That which characterized the iniquity of the harlot was the martyrdom of God's saints and especially of the witnesses of Jesus; but the character of the iniquity of the city overthrown in chapter 18 is that of a godless, luxurious commercialism, making "merchant princes" of those dealing with her. Roman Catholicism, as a system, has never enriched the nations of the earth, but rather the contrary. Witness the late rebellions against Rome's arrogating to herself, free from taxes, vast parts of the territories of such lands as Mexico and Spain. At the height of her power over the European nations, in the days of Hildebrand, Gregory VII, in the eleventh century, we see the spirit of the harlot who rides the Beast in chapter 17. The Emperor Henry IV of Germany and his whole people are excommunicated, for disregard of a papal decree; and the Emperor must stand in the cold three days in Italy, waiting on the proud Pope's arrogance, before he is "forgiven." No wonder that when the world gets loose by divine permission from the restraints of conscience toward the name of the Father and the Son under Antichrist's blasphemies (which holy names the "harlot" has had to use) they rush in hate to destroy this hideous religious tyranny from the face of the earth! But, on the exact contrary, the kings of the earth and their subjects weep and wail in bitter mourning over the destruction of the great city of Babylon of chapter 18.

9. The manner of the final overthrow of Babylon, as described in Revelation 18:1-24 and in the Old Testament prophets, forbids us to conclude that the destruction of the papacy is there contemplated, and proves that it is rather a sudden, direct visitation of God. In Jeremiah 51:25-26, Jehovah speaks: "I … will make thee a burnt mountain. And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith Jehovah." Again in Jeremiah 51:8 "Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed."

Now Cyrus captured Babylon (about B. C. 540) on the night of Belshazzar's great feast of Daniel 5:1-31, but it was not at that time "destroyed." In fact, many in the city did not know for two or three days that the city had been taken! Babylon became a provincial capital in the Persian Empire. In the third empire, that of Alexander the Great, we find that it was a place much loved and delighted in by the great conqueror, who indeed drank himself to death there.

Peter wrote his first epistle from Babylon-(1 Peter 5:13). At the end of the fifth century, the "Babylonian Talmud" was issued by the Jews of Babylon, who had several universities there. It seems to have been a center of activity of this exiled race. In the tenth century Babylon is again mentioned as still in existence; and 200 years later it has grown considerably. It was afterwards further increased, and was called Hillah, as at present. Over 10,000 people were there thirty years ago. The town is constructed of the bricks of ancient Babylon.

Therefore, it appears impossible that the great prophecies concerning Babylon's final overthrow, whether in the Old Testament or in Revelation 18:1-24 have been finally fulfilled. For instance, "And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall shepherds make their flocks to lie down there" (Isaiah 13:19-20).

Again, "It shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation. As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities thereof, saith Jehovah, so shall no man dwell there, neither shall any son of man sojourn therein" (Jeremiah 50:39-40). And in Revelation 18:21-23, "Babylon, the great city, (shall) be cast down, and shall be found no more at all. And the voice of harpers and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters … no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft, … any more at all in thee; and the voice of a mill … no more at all in thee; and the light of a lamp … no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride … no more at all."

Here is utter desolation, and it is accomplished according to Revelation 18:19, in one hour. "In one hour is she made desolate." Revelation 18:17, "In one hour so great riches is made desolate." "In one hour is thy judgment come," we read in verse 10. The horror of her overthrow is "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah"-it is so fearful! In Revelation 18:9, "The kings of the earth … when they look upon the smoke of her burning" stood "afar off for the fear of her torment"; and in Revelation 18:15, the merchants of all luxuries (29 being specified) "stand afar off for the fear of her torment." Again, in Revelation 18:17, "every shipmaster, and everyone that saileth any whither, and mariners, and as many as gain their living by sea, stood afar off, and cried out as they looked upon the smoke of her burning."

We are reminded of Abraham's gazing upon Sodom's destruction (which Babylon's final overthrow will equal): "And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Jehovah: and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the Plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace" (Genesis 19:27-28). (Abraham, thank God, was already "afar off" from that burning, for he lived twenty miles away, up in the Hebron mountain with God!)

10. There remains this solemn fact: that there is a great commercial metropolis overthrown by God in Revelation 18:1-24, and that in connection with the seventh bowl of wrath, immediately preceding our Lord's second coming (Revelation 16:19; Revelation 19:11, ff.). (Now the harlot was destroyed at least three years before, when the Beast and his ten kings began their power!) We read in connection with Babylon's overthrow as described in Isaiah 13:1-22 : "Wail ye; for the day of Jehovah is at hand; as destruction from the Almighty shall it come … For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine … And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah" (verses 6, 10, 19).

Now, it matters not that in verse 17 of this chapter, God mentions the invasion by the Medes, for it is the common method of prophecy to look upon some event for a moment, and then see through it, as in a dissolving view, the greater event of which it was merely a type. For instance, in Zechariah 9:9 our Lord is seen riding into Jerusalem upon a lowly ass and its foal, but verse 10 goes on, without explanation of what intervenes, to say, "And he shall speak peace unto the nations: and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth"-which is at His second coming!

11. When the final destruction of Babylon, the literal city, was prophesied by Jeremiah, we find God's solemn warning to His people to flee from it: "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and save every man his life; be not cut off in her iniquity: for it is the time of Jehovah's vengeance … My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and save yourselves every man from the fierce anger of Jehovah" (Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45).

Now note that Jeremiah could not have been prophesying of the mystical or papal Babylon; for "the mystery of iniquity" did not then exist; but Babylon the city was the avowed enemy of Jehovah's nation Israel. Again, mark carefully that when Cyrus took Babylon, neither Daniel, who that night prophesied to Belshazzar the end of his kingdom, nor the other Jews, fled from Babylon! As a matter of fact, Daniel was immediately elevated to the triumvirate of presidents under Darius the Median, who received the kingdom at the hand of the conqueror, Cyrus. But these prophecies of Jeremiah accord perfectly with the voice from heaven of Revelation 18:4 "Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." If the city of Babylon is restored as Antichrist's capital, at the end of this age, godly Jews will be warned fully to flee, as in Jeremiah 51:45-46; Jeremiah 51:50.

12. We are forced then, to the conclusion that the overthrow of Babylon, as the revealed center of iniquitous luxury and Satan-worship, the culmination of man's glory, lies yet in the future, in the land of Shinar, where Babylon's history began! The vision of the ephah of Zechariah 5:1-11 corroborates overwhelmingly the thought of the revival of commercial Babylon. A woman, called Wickedness, is seen sitting in an ephah measure, covered with a round piece of lead. (An ephah would be, to a Jew, a perfect symbol of commerce.) Two women with "wings of a stork" (an unclean bird to Israel- Leviticus 11:19) bear this ephah away "between earth and heaven." The prophet asks the revealing angel, "Whither do these bear the ephah?" And the significant answer is, "To build her a house in the land of Shinar: and when it is prepared, she shall be set there in her own place." What could such a vision portray, if not the final concentrating of wickedness in a great center which should reach the whole earth? Direct rebellion against God, in a new, and astounding, and organized way, began in that very land of Shinar and it will complete its cycle and come back for judgment to that same place!

Whatever dark, persecuting history the harlot woman sitting on the Beast has been guilty of; and even if, as is very probable, she represents all false worship since the Flood: doctrines which, pretending to teach worship of God, have led men into the depths of uncleanness of idolatry; this much is certain: the harlot represents the mystery of iniquity, and the Beast, manifest iniquity. The harlot does not "deny all that is called God or that is worshipped"; the Beast does this very thing.

Furthermore, the harlot does not partake of the fearful bowls of wrath poured by God upon the Beast worshippers (Revelation 16:1-21). The two principles of iniquity-are distinct and diverse, and must be kept so in our minds. All false religions tell the consciences of their devotees that they are serving a god, or gods. This iniquity, of course, is headed up by Romanism. But the fearful character of the Beast's career is that he directs the worship of the whole world to himself, in order to make them conscious Devil-worshippers (Revelation 13:1-18). They are no longer deceived, as to whom they worship: they are enlightened with darkness! Even the majority of the Jewish nation, having made their seven-year contract with Antichrist, cry confidently: "We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves" (Isaiah 28:15).

In order for this fearful program of Satan-worship to prevail without hindrance, there must be removed from the earth three things: first, the true Church, the Bride of Christ; second, apostate Christendom, represented by the harlot, which, however much she lacks the spirit, keeps the names of Christian things; and, third, the nation of Israel. God removes the first; the Beast and his ten kings destroy the second; while Armageddon is the final, supreme Satanic effort to obliterate the third-Israel-from the earth.

The Judgment of Mystic Babylon

Revelation 17:1-18

OUTLINE:

I. The vision of the woman on the scarlet beast (Revelation 17:1-6).

1. It is the judgment of the harlot which is to be revealed in this chapter.

2. Her dealings with:

3. The kings of the earth-"fornication."

4. The earth-dwellers-making them "drunken."

5. Her position on the Roman beast, now become fully blasphemous.

6. Her luxurious attire and her abominable cup.

7. Her mystic name: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of the harlots and of the abominations."

8. Her blood-drunken state.

II. The unfolding, or interpretation of the vision as to the woman and the Beast (Revelation 17:7-8).

1. The Beast.

a. The Beast is a man (Revelation 13:18). (Though the Beast is the Roman Empire, that Empire with its iniquity full, is seen in its head, the Beast.)

b. He had had a former history on earth: "He was."

c. He was not then on earth: "And is not."

d. He is to have a future history: "to come up out of the abyss" (where he was in John's day-the jail of lost human beings in the center of the earth).

e. He will go thence directly into the lake of fire: "into perdition" (Revelation 19:20).

f. He will cause astonishment among the non-elect of those days, because of their knowledge that he was once on earth and disappeared and shall return: "he was, and is not, and shall come."

2. The Woman.

a. The woman is a city.

b. She is Rome (see below).

c. She will be "hated" by the Beast and his ten kings.

d. She will be utterly destroyed by them.

III. The great double interpretation (for "the mind that hath wisdom").

1. The seven heads of the Beast represent seven mountains.

a. These are the "seven hills" of literal Rome: (for prophecy at the end-time deals with the fourth world-power, Rome; and every reader knows that both pagan and Christian writers call Rome the seven-hilled city).

b. In this application, the woman "sits" on those mountains: she is the Babylonian system, transferred to Rome by Attalus III of Pergamos-itself a colony from Babylonia-in B. C. 133.

c. The Woman "is the great city, which hath a kingdom over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 17:18). (The present tense "hath a kingdom" must indicate Rome: for Rome alone was ruling the earth in John's day: "many waters" where she sits are said to be "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.")

2. The seven heads also represent seven Roman emperors.

a) That these are Roman emperors is shown by the words "the one is"-that is, in John's day.

b) Five had "fallen": (fallen probably indicating a violent death-see Govett, Apocalypse, p. 445, 446). [Thus the seven "heads," or kings would have a double mark: (1) They would blasphemously arrogate deity to themselves (see 13:l); and (2) they would "fall" by violent means. The five before John's day thus would be Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The sixth, who reigned when John wrote was Domitian-most blasphemous-who was assassinated.]

c) "The other" the seventh, was not yet come in John's day: he was to come and to "continue a little while." (The spirit of the passage indicates that this seventh will be as really Roman as any of the others: either reviving the Roman Empire or its spirit-as Mussolini is attempting to do!)

d) The Beast himself will be an eighth but will be also "of the seven." (This involves his release from the abyss in the center of the earth, the present prison of the lost spirits; and such release is affirmed of him in Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 13:3; Revelation 14:1-20. Which of "the seven" he will be, God does not tell.)

IV. The ten kings (not kingdoms) represented by the ten horns.

1. They had not received "kingdom" in John's day.

2. They are to receive authority (exousia) along with the Beast (not till then) for "one hour" (the word hour here denotes a time of special character, or activity: as in Luke 22:53).

3. The committal to the Beast of their power and authority-by divine ruling. (Like Alexander's and Napoleon's generals, they come, with their leader, into sudden power, and their transfer of all to the Beast seems as speedy as it is unanimous.)

4. Their union with the Beast, the Antichrist, in the utter desolation (because of their absolute hatred) of the harlot. (This will be the end absolutely, finally, of Babylon in mystery. It is the complete destruction of the papal harlot, and of all earthly forms of worship except adoration of the Beast, and through him of Satan, openly-13:8.)

5. Their final, fearful presumption: Armageddon-"war against the Lamb" (See Revelation 19:19-21 for the outcome!)

What Babylon Isaiah 1:1-31. Babylon is a literal city on the Euphrates River, with a form of idolatrous worship which began almost immediately after the Flood, in the days of Nimrod, and extended throughout the whole earth. We find this first form of Babylon opposed to God's people Israel. Babylon is Satan's capital, just as Jerusalem is God's capital, and we find this first Babylon was permitted under Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and its temple.

2. Babylon, next, is the same system in another city-Rome, and opposing the same idolatrous system to God's saints of the Church age:-a monstrous system of evil doctrine that unites the church with the world.

3. The final form of Babylon is the literal city on the Euphrates, rebuilt as Antichrist's capital of the last days, opposing Israel as God's earthly people who will have gathered back to their land (the Church of course, having been raptured), and opposing Jehovah's worship with the most powerful and enslaving form of idolatry that the world has ever known-the worship of the Beast and his image!

Let us get well fixed in our minds these three phases of Babylon the Great.

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 in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication.

Let us first remark that the meaning of this vision, whether important or not to us, is terribly distinct in the mind of the Spirit-this great harlot! She is called "the great harlot" in verse 1; "the harlot" in verses 15 and 16; "the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth" in verse 5; and "the woman" six times, in this chapter. We do not well if our perception be dim of an existence so supremely hateful to God. Forty times the pronouns "she," "her," "thy," and "thee," are crowded into this divinely indignant record of the judgment of the great harlot. [Babylon is named over 260 times in Scripture; 37 times in one prophecy, Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-64! It is more frequently mentioned than any other city except Jerusalem.]

Now it is one of the seven angels that had the bowls of wrath of chapter 16 who comes to show John this judgment; as also in striking contrast, one of these seven in 21:9 leads the Seer to the vision of the Bride, the Lamb's wife.

Constantly remember that Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24 is not a history of Babylon, but the record of its judgment. We see this harlot "sitteth upon many waters," which in verse 15, is said to represent "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues"-terrible mass-words of the hordes of idolatry of the last days, ending with tongues, which reminds us at once of Babel!

With this monstrous harlot, the "kings of the earth" are said to have "committed fornication," and the inhabitants of the earth were drunk with the wine of her fornication. Here then is a world-wide influence from the rulers down to the lowest subject which can only be spoken of by God by this awful word "fornication."

We must, as is usual in The Revelation, go to the Old Testament to find the roots of the meanings of the terms used. God arraigns Israel in the prophets over and over for "playing the harlot," "committing adultery," and "whoredom." In Jeremiah 3:2-3; Jeremiah 3:9 :

"Thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness … thou hadst a harlot's forehead, thou refusest to be ashamed… Through the lightness of her whoredom that the land was polluted and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks."

No one who will take the trouble to read Ezekiel 16:1-63; Ezekiel 23:1-49 can fail to understand God's plain language. In these two chapters of Ezekiel alone, whoredom is mentioned over twenty times, as describing the sin before God of those who turn His worship into shameless fellowship with demons and commerce with the world! It must be remembered that God is love; that He has always been as He is now, and is jealous toward those who, having a revelation from Him, turn from Him to that world which is controlled by His deadly enemy Satan; for "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God."

Religious sin, therefore, is especially in view in this great harlot of Revelation 17:1-18. It is Satan's religious system controlling men by such doctrines as will salve and quiet their consciences, while suffering them to walk in their natural lusts. This "wine" the whole world has greedily drunk, and is by it drunken! Men love their lusts, but their consciences must be appeased that they may follow their lusts unrestrainedly. This, "mystery Babylon," by her insidious and finally shameless teachings, supplies; so that Satan's system, promulgated originally at Babylon, finally controls the whole world! [As regards idolatry being a post-diluvian development, consider:

1. There is no scriptural record of idolatry before the Flood.

2. The presence of the cherubim "at the east of the Garden of Eden" and "the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" would beyond doubt indicate a dispensation that allowed no such hideous caricature of Jehovah as idolatry sets up.

3. Joshua, in tracing Israel's origin, says, "Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from beyond the River" (Joshua 24:2-3).

4. Shortly after the Flood and probably in connection with the daring scheme of the Babel tower of Genesis 2:1-25, appears the earliest historical record we have of idolatry. "The discoveries of Nineveh and Babylon reveal that a secret organization of unbelievers was formed soon after the death of Nimrod (Genesis 10:1-32), at a time when open apostasy was dangerous, and that its members established their headquarters at Babylon. From this center they labored with ceaseless activity to confuse and destroy the knowledge of Jehovah in the world and to bring men under the yoke of demon gods. They soon became a powerful and influential body continuing to be a secret society, not wishing to share their power and privileges with any but those willing to pass through the ordeal of initiation, which included a baptism, after which the initiate was termed ‘twice-born' or regenerate (Greek diphyees), and worship was originally offered to a trinity consisting of father, mother and son. But the first person was very commonly confused with the third, and at last almost entirely forgotten; so that the prominent deities were the mother and son. Of these the former was by far the most popular and has been known according to time and place as Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Gods, Mylitta, Astarte, Diana of Ephesus, Aphrodite, Venus, Isis and the Blessed Virgin" (Petnber-"Great Prophecies"). Mr. Darby remarks: "There appear to me to have been four sources of idolatry: first, an ineffaceable consciousness of God; second, deification of ancestors; third, the stars; fourth, the principle of generation. These were interwoven, at last giving rise to corruption inconceivable, the consecration of degrading lusts."

5. The Scripture gives Babylon as the origin of idolatry which spread to "all the nations." As Jeremiah cried, Babylon "is a land of graven images, and they are mad over idols. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore, the nations are mad … all the earth is drunken" (Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:7). I have found no other final source of idolatry in Scripture than Babylon.

How fitting to Rome, the present form of Babylon, is the double statement that the kings of the earth committed "fornication." "Rome's influence over kings is a sort of personal influence, such as that of a harlot: her power over the nations is more distant, like that of wine. Her doctrine is ‘wine of fornication.' Christianity is too holy, strict, self-denying, humbling for men by nature. Rome discovers to the nations a way of enjoying the world to the full, yet with the flattering belief that they are the servants of Christ" (Govett).]

If we make "mystery Babylon" mean only Roman Catholicism, we have to explain:

1. First: Why the same manner of language is used in the Old Testament prophets against Babylon as is used in The Revelation (compare, for example, Isaiah 21:9 and the great prophecies of Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-64 with Revelation 14:8 and the rejoicing over her destruction as seen in Revelation 19:1-21).

2. Second: How the blood of all that were slain upon earth was found in her finally (Revelation 18:24). We know from our Lord's words concerning Jerusalem (which stood for self-righteousness) that upon her came cumulatively "all the righteous blood" shed upon earth from the blood of Abel: but upon final Babylon, the blood of all that had been slain.

3. Third: We must explain how "the blood of the prophets" (evidently referring to Old Testament prophets) as well as of other saints, was found in her. This was not so as to Rome. Even if we limit the last verse of Revelation 18:1-24 to the blood of God's people, this difficulty remains.

4. Fourth: It is in the nature of things impossible, or at least most improbable, that a name which marked the enemy of God's work in the world since the days of the Flood, right through the Old Testament, that of the city which destroyed Jerusalem and vaunted itself and its gods above all, should now in the New Testament be limited to a false church, which, although headed up in Rome upon the Tiber (that is, in the Papacy) never as such reached the world-wide sphere of the damning influence the Spirit of God declares Babylon to have had: "Babylon hath been a golden cup in Jehovah's hand, that hath made all the earth drunken" (Jeremiah 51:7).

5. Fifth: We expect in the book of Revelation the heading up of all the principles both of good and evil, which have appeared in human history. If we allow Babylon to express Satan's system of evil, as especially developed from Babel onwards after the Flood, and including all those various systems of idolatry and false worship which have had their spring, or root, or direct teaching in Babylon, we find in the picture presented to us in Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24 an adequate portrayal; otherwise, we must leave out vast populations that Romanism as such has never touched, but which has indeed drunk of the intoxicating idolatrous cup of Babylon.

6. Sixth: If we thus consider Babylon as an expression of the whole Satanic system from the earliest times since the Flood onward, we are quite prepared to understand the position of the harlot, "mystery Babylon," in Revelation 17:1-18. For no one can deny that the nations which have influenced the history of mankind since the days of the apostles when the Church began until the present, have been those nations that have come under the influence of the harlot as represented in the papacy. Thus we can fully consent to the "seven hills" on which she sits, being the well-known hills of Rome, the fourth world-power, as so constantly described by Latin writers. But that this great harlot called "mystery Babylon" in Revelation 17:1-18, had her beginning with the papacy, we feel to be contrary to the Scripture taken as a whole and to the known historical facts.

7. Seventh: Of course, as illustrated in France under Clemenceau, Mexico under Calles, and Russia under Lenin and Stalin, we see the chief obstacle of the secular power, and the one chiefly hated by them, to be established Christianity as represented (or sadly misrepresented) in these countries. Every one senses, for instance, the two directly opposing powers in Rome itself, in Mussolini and the Pope. At present the papacy "rides" the Roman beast, although, as we know, to a most fearful fall, and that we believe not far distant.

Even when the Church maintained its early holy separateness from the world and the State, it was the object of the supreme hatred of the secular power, the fourth world-power. Magisterial authority is committed by God to man, but he immediately abuses it by arrogating independence of God who "ordained" him. See Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel 3:1-30, and Darius of Persia in Daniel 6:1-28.

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 (literally, gilded) 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 wondered with a great wonder.

Note here, first the setting, then the vision, and last the effect upon the apostle.

First, we behold a wilderness. This is a literal description of the region surrounding both Babylon on the Euphrates and Rome on the Tiber: the former, marshes and swamps; the latter, the Campagna-"a marble wilderness"; in John's day rich and inhabited, but "desolated about the time the popes began to flourish."

But it is the spiritual wilderness which we need to observe. Babylon, in whatever form, has been a desolator of God's people and His truth.

We next notice that it is a woman that is first presented to us in this vision. Remember that we are here reading mystic terms (Revelation 17:1-6); and that the angel in Revelation 17:7 proceeds to unfold the "mystery." Who the woman is, or what she is, is revealed in the last verse of the chapter: "The woman whom thou sawest is the great city which hath a kingdom over the kings of the earth" (R. V. margin).

And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? 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 to go into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, 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 come. 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 fallen, the one is, the 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, who 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 hath a kingdom over the kings of the earth.

Now the "great wonder," with which John was struck at the vision of her, shows, it seems to me, that there was nothing either in Scripture (which John, being in the Spirit, would know), or in the apostle's own experience or discernment, that would enable him to solve the mystery this woman presented. I know the angel says: "Wherefore didst thou wonder?" but it seems that this question was a mild form of reproof that the apostle had not turned at once to his angelic guide; for that guide proceeds: "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her."

We know that the true Church was a mystery hid in God until revealed to the apostle Paul; and doubtless John, like Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16) had studied those marvelous letters of the Gentile apostle-that "less than the least of all saints," to whom God unfolded the heavenly character, calling, and destiny of the Church, as the Body and the Bride of Christ-to be caught up and presented to Him, "without spot or blemish or any such thing."

Now, behold! Here was another woman, the very antithesis of the true Church, unholy, profligate, hideous, shamelessly displaying "the things of her fornication," seated upon the beast that John must have instantly recognized from the former vision (Revelation 13:1-18), as the last great world-power, and now "full of names and blasphemy," and also scarlet-colored! It was then the Roman beast, filling the world with blasphemous wickedness. That scarlet was one of the colors of imperial Rome, we know from Matthew 27:28. They put a scarlet robe on our Lord, in mockery of His title as King.

But this woman is seen in both purple and scarlet (Christ was by Rome also arrayed in purple- Mark 15:16; Mark 15:20)! Purple was the Roman imperial color. The emperor was clothed in it: the senators wore a broad band of it, and the knights, a narrower band; so that this woman in John's eyes would be exercising all the power of the Roman Empire, though herself not crowned, not a queen, in her own right! Thus the mystery. Who was she? On her forehead was written the word "mystery," and "Babylon," and also the fact that she was a "mother of harlots" and also of "abominations" (false gods) for the whole earth. Furthermore, she was drunken with blood!-and that of the saints (before Christ) and "the martyrs of Jesus" (after His coming).

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wnc/revelation-17.html. 1938.

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Tuesday, March 19th, 2019
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