“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
Revelation Chapter 17
Revelation 17:1 “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 you the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:”
One of the seven angels - See notes on Revelation 1:11; cf. Revelation 21:9. The identification of this angel as one of the seven plague bearing angels of chapters 15 and 16 implies that the information about to be given to John is related to the seven last plagues. This relationship is confirmed by the fact that the announced topic of this chapter “the judgment of the great whore” takes place under the seventh plague. (Revelation 16:19)
Vials - See notes on Revelation 15:7; 16:1.
Talked with me - The Greek word translated “with” (meta) may be understood as implying an intimate relationship between John and the angel. Possibly the angel addressed John before taking him off in vision. See notes on Revelation 1:2, 10.
Come hither - Or “Here.” The expression has the force of an imperative. See notes on verse 3.
I will shew unto thee - See notes on Revelation 1:2; 4:1.
Judgment - Greek krima - Meaning “sentence,” “decision,” “verdict,” “decree.” Here of the heavenly assize with respect to “the great whore” in view of her criminal course of action. (See notes on verses 4-6; cf. Revelation 18:10) Note that the angel does not show John the execution of the sentence or he would have used the word krisis, which word is translated “judgment” in Revelation 18:10. He simply tells him of it. Krisis may indicate either the act of investigating a case or the act of carrying out the sentence. See notes on Revelation 16:19; 18:5; 19:2; cf. Isaiah 23:11
Chapter 17 consists of two distinct parts:
(1) The symbolic vision of verses 3-6 which John saw.
(2) What he was told (verse 7) in explanation of it as recorded in verses 8-18.
Part one sets forth the crimes of Babylon and thus constitutes Heaven's bill of indictment. A declaration of why the divine sentence is to be pronounced upon her. (See notes on verse 6) Part two sets forth the sentence itself and the means by which it is to be executed. Babylon's criminal career reaches a climax under the sixth plague, (see notes on Revelation 16:12-16) whereas the sentence decreed is executed under the seventh. (see notes on Revelation 16:17-19; 17:13-17; 18:4, 8; 19:2) Accordingly, part one is concerned most particularly with events under the sixth plague and part two with those under the seventh. Thus chapter 17 is a delineation of the final crisis when Satan puts forth his supreme effort to annihilate God's people (cf. Revelation 12:17) and when all the powers of earth are arrayed against them. God permits Satan and the human agencies allied with him to carry forward to the verge of success their plot to annihilate the saints. But at the moment the blow is to be struck, God intervenes to deliver His people. The hosts of evil arrested in the very act of attempting to slay the saints stand without excuse before the bar of divine justice. (Daniel 12:1) Little wonder that John was filled with amazement as he beheld the climax of the great drama of the mystery of iniquity. (see notes on Revelation 17:6)
Whore - Greek porne - Meaning “prostitute,” “harlot.” Porne probably goes back to a word meaning “to sell” or “to export for sale” such things as slaves. In Greece prostitutes were usually purchased slaves. The Old Testament prophets often compare apostate Israel, which repeatedly went “a whoring” after heathen gods, (Ezekiel 23:30; cf. Isaiah 23:17; Ezekiel 16:15) with an adulterous woman. Concerning mystical Babylon as a harlot see notes on Revelation 17:5. (cf. verses 2, 4; Revelation 19:2) For Old Testament passages whose thought or wording is similar to that of chapter 17, see Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 25:12; 50:1; Ezekiel 26:13.
Sitteth upon many waters - Exercises power over many “peoples” and “nations.” (see verse 15) The form of the verb in Greek presents the “great whore” as in power at the time and as continuing to exercise power. As the ancient city of Babylon was situated upon the literal waters of the Euphrates (see Jeremiah 50:12, 38) and dwelt figuratively “upon many waters” or peoples, (Jeremiah 51:12-13; cf. Isaiah 8:7-8; 14:6; Jeremiah 50:23) so modern Babylon is represented as sitting upon or oppressing the peoples of earth. (cf. Revelation 16:12)
Revelation 17:2 “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.”
Kings of the earth - The political powers of earth, (See notes on verse 12) which place their authority and resources at the disposal of the “great whore” (verse 1; See notes on verse 13) and through which she designs to realize her ambition to slay all of God's people (See notes on verses 6, 14) and to rule over the “inhabitants of the earth.” (cf. verse 8) The “kings of the earth” are her accomplices in crime.
Committed fornication - Greek porneuo - The related verb form of porne. (See notes on verse 1) This expression is equivalent to “gone a whoring” in the OT. (cf. Ezekiel 23:30; Hosea 4:12) Used figuratively as here, it refers to an illicit alliance of professed Christians with some master other than Christ. In this instance to a religio-political compact between an apostate church (see notes on Revelation 17:5) and the nations of earth. Compare Isaiah 23:15, 17.
Inhabitants - As a result of the course followed by their leaders, the inhabitants of the earth are deceived (cf. verse 8) into cooperating with the policy of the “great whore.” (cf. Revelation 13:8)
Made drunk - Completely intoxicated. The normal powers of reason and judgment have been stupefied and the spiritual perception numbed. Compare Jeremiah 51:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:3-4, 7, 18; 14:8; 18:3; 19:20. It may be noted that here the intoxication of the inhabitants of earth is mentioned following reference to the illicit alliance between Babylon and the kings of the earth. It appears Babylon acts through the kings of the earth to gain control of those inhabitants of earth who have not already voluntarily submitted to her. Rulers and subjects are alike deceived.
With the wine - By drinking the wine. (her false teachings and doctrines) This “wine” is Satan's deceptions in uniting all the world under his control together with the falsehoods and “miracles” by which he advances his policy. (cf. Revelation 13:13-14; 18:23; 19:20)
Of her fornication - Or “[which is] her prostitution.” The alliance between apostate Christianity and the political powers of earth is the means by which Satan proposes to unite the world under his leadership.
Revelation 17:3 “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
Carried me away - Not in body as if he was removed from the isle of Patmos to some other place but in a visionary way just as Ezekiel was carried between earth and heaven in the visions of God to Jerusalem. (cf. Ezekiel 3:12-14; 8:3; 40:2-3; Revelation 21:10)
In the spirit - Literally “in spirit.” (see notes on Revelation 1:10; cf. Revelation 4:2; 21:10) The absence of the definite article in Greek stresses the quality or nature of the experience.
The wilderness - Greek eremos - Meaning “a desolate place.” (see notes on Revelation 12:6) The related verb used in Revelation 17:16 means “to desolate,” “to lay waste,” “to strip bare,” “to abandon.” A “wilderness” was an uninhabited region where life could be sustained only amid difficulty and danger. Food, shelter and possibly even water would be difficult to obtain and there would be danger from wild animals and perhaps from brigands. Accordingly, some consider that when used figuratively as here, a “wilderness” would be a situation fraught with difficulty and danger, apparently for God's people. (see verses 6, 14) Absence of the definite article before the word “wilderness” in the Greek, clearly makes the term qualitative and descriptive. In other words, it specifies a condition rather than a particular location.
In view of the fact that chapter 17 appears to deal most particularly with the time of the seven last plagues, (See notes on verse 1) some hold that the “wilderness” situation here referred to is descriptive of the experience of God's people at that time. The situation here depicted is similar to but not to be identified with that of the “wilderness” of Revelation 12:6, 13-16.
Woman - The Old Testament prophets repeatedly represent an apostate people as a licentious woman. (Jeremiah 3:1-25; Ezekiel 16:26-32; cf. Ezekiel 16:15-58; 23:2-21; Hosea 2:5; 3:1; etc) This “woman” the “great whore,” (Revelation 17:1) or mystical “Babylon the great” (verse 5) is guilty of “the blood of all that were slain upon the earth,” (Revelation 18:24) throughout history. Mystical Babylon constitutes the organized religious opposition to God's people probably from the beginning of time, but here particularly at its very close. (see notes on Revelation 17:5)
Sit - The form of the verb denotes continuing action. In verse 1 the “great whore” is represented as being in direct control of men as individuals religiously, and here as directing the policies of civil government. (See notes on verse 18) It has ever been characteristic of apostate Christianity to attempt a union of church and state in order to consolidate religious control over public policy. Compare the declaration of our Lord that His “kingdom” is not “of this world.” (John 18:36)
Scarlet - Or “crimson.” A brilliant color certain to attract attention. In Isaiah 1:18 scarlet is the color of sin. Compare the “great red dragon” of Revelation 12:3.
Beast - In Bible prophecy beasts commonly represent kingdoms or political powers. (Daniel 7:3-7, 17; 8:3, 5, 20-21; cf. Revelation 12:3; 13:1) The color of this beast no doubt representing a sinful kingdom, not just sinful but one that thought to change the law of God. (Daniel 7:25) The names of blasphemy with which it is covered indicate that it stands in opposition to God. Accordingly, the beast itself may be identified as Satan working through those political agencies in all ages that have submitted to her control.
In certain respects this beast resembles the great red dragon of Revelation 12:3, and in others the leopard like beast of Revelation 13:1-2 (see respective comments) The context makes the latter relationship appear to be closer. The chief difference between the beast of chapter 13 and that of chapter 17 is that in the former, which is identified with the papacy, no distinction is made between the religious and the political aspects of Papal power, whereas in the latter the two are distinct. The beast representing political power and the woman a religious power.
Full - Apostasy and opposition to God are complete.
Names of blasphemy - Or “blasphemous names.” (see Mark 2:7; 7:2) In Revelation 13:1 (see comment there) the names are on the seven heads. Here they are over the entire beast. These names indicate the character of the beast. It presumes to usurp the prerogative of Deity. That it is “full” of blasphemous names indicates that it is wholly devoted to this objective. Compare Isaiah 14:13-14; Jeremiah 50:29, 31; Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 25; 11:36-37.
Seven heads - See notes on verses 9-11. For seven headed beasts in ancient mythology, see Isaiah 27:1.
Ten horns - See notes on verses 12-14, 17.
Revelation 17:4 “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:”
The woman - See notes on verse 3.
Purple and scarlet colour and decked with gold - Compare Revelation 18:12, 16-17. Old Testament priest robes were made of “gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet.” (Exodus 28:3-6) The borders of the priest robes were to have a fringe of blue and when they looked upon the ribband of blue, they were to remember all the Commandments of the Lord. Blue symbolizes God's Commandments and is the colour of sapphire as God's throne from which His law was cut. (Numbers 15:38-39; Ezekiel chapter 1 etc) The Papal priest robe colours are also gold, purple and scarlet as per the great whore. And the colour blue is missing from the Papal Church as per the great whore. So while scarlet being the colour of the beast represents sin, (transgressing God's law; 1 John 3:4) the missing colour blue represents the law of God.
This apostate religious organization depicted in all her seductiveness and gaudily dressed and vulgarly bedecked stands forth in striking contrast with the “bride” of the Lamb who John saw arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. (see Revelation 19:7-8; Luke 16:19)
Abominations and filthiness of her fornication - Or “unclean acts, even the filthiness which is her fornication.” The gold of the cup deceives men with respect to the nature of the contents. See notes on verse 2.
Revelation 17:5 “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
Forehead - The character reflected by the name “Babylon” is the woman's considered choice. This may be implied by the fact that the name appears on her forehead. Compare on Revelation 13:16.
Was a name written - Rather “a name stands written” It had been written there in the past and remains there. The name reflects character.
Mystery - This word is descriptive of the title but not part of it. Hence the appropriateness of the term “mystical Babylon.” (see notes on Revelation 1:20)
Babylon the great - Although in one sense, mystery Babylon may be considered as representative of apostate religious systems throughout history, “Babylon the great” in the book of Revelation also designates the united apostate religions at the close of time. (see notes on Revelation 14:8; 16:13-14; 18:24) In Revelation 17:18 mystical Babylon is called “that great city.” (cf. Revelation 16:19; 18:18) Babylon is referred to as “great” here in view of the fact that this chapter deals most particularly with Satan's great final effort to secure the allegiance of the human race through religion. “Babylon the great” is the name by which Inspiration refers to the great threefold religious union of the Papacy, apostate Protestantism and spiritism. (see notes on Revelation 16:13, 18-19; cf. Revelation 14:8; 18:2; Daniel 4:30; Zechariah 10:2-3; 11:3-9) The term “Babylon” refers to the organizations themselves and to their leaders but not so much to the members. The latter are referred to as “many waters” (Revelation 17:1, 15) and as the “inhabitants of the earth.” (verse 2; cf. verse 8)
Mother of harlots - As already noted, “Babylon the great” includes apostate Protestantism at the time envisioned here. The daughters of this “mother” thus represent the various religious bodies that constitute apostate Protestantism.
Abominations - See notes on verse 4.
Revelation 17:6 “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.”
Drunken - See notes on verse 2. Literally “continuing in a state of intoxication.” In a general sense Babylon may be said to be “drunken” with the blood of the martyrs of all ages, (cf. Revelation 18:24) but in a more immediate sense with that of martyrs and prospective martyrs in the closing scenes of earth's history. God holds Babylon accountable for the blood of those whose death she has decreed but whom she is prevented from slaying. Babylon is utterly intoxicated with her past success at persecuting the saints, (Daniel 7:25; Matthew 24:21; cf. Revelation 6:9-11; 18:24) and with the prospect that soon she will have the satisfaction of completing the gory task. (see notes on Revelation 16:6; 17:14)
Blood - See notes on Revelation 16:6.
Saints - Literally “holy ones.” (Acts 9:13; Romans 1:7)
And with the blood - Or “that is, with the blood.”
Martyrs - Greek martures - Meaning literally “witnesses.” (see notes on Revelation 2:13) Compare Isaiah 47:6; Jeremiah 51:49. See notes on Revelation 18:24.
Of Jesus - Probably meaning “who bore witness concerning Jesus.” First by their words and then by their martyrdom. They had been slain because they persisted in witnessing for Jesus and had been loyal to His name at the cost of their lives.
When I saw her - It is not clear whether this refers to all that John had seen in verses 3-6 or only to her conduct in verse 6 being the climax of her criminal career. The angel's reply to John's amazement (verse 7) may imply the former.
I wondered with great admiration - Literally “I was amazed with great amazement.” The Greek being a reflection of a typically Hebrew idiomatic expression. The angel had called John to witness the sentence to be pronounced on Babylon the religious prostitute, (verse 1) and the apostle probably expected to see a picture of complete ruin and degradation. But instead he sees a woman garbed in costly attire in a state of intoxication and sitting upon a fearsome beast. An angel had already told John something about this evil “woman,” (Revelation 14:8; 16:18-19) but now he is given a more complete account of her crimes. What John sees fills him with utter astonishment, far beyond anything he expresses elsewhere in the Revelation.
The crimes of mystical Babylon as set forth in the angel's indictment may be enumerated as follows (cf. Revelation 18:4):
1. Seduction. By seducing the kings of the earth into illicit union with her, in order to further her own sinister designs. (See notes on verse 2; Revelation 18:3)
2. Oppressive despotism. By sitting upon “many waters” and oppressing the people of earth. (see notes on Revelation 17:1)
3. Contributing to human delinquency. By making the people of earth except for the saints, drunk with the wine of her political policy thus causing them to become her accomplices in her evil plot. (See notes on verse 2) By her “fornication” she “did corrupt the earth.” (Revelation 19:2)
4. Drunkenness. By being “drunken with the blood of the saints” who had offended her by refusing to drink of her evil potion of error or to submit to her ambition to rule the earth.
5. Murder and attempted murder. By plotting the murder of Christ's bride, the “woman” of chapter 12. (see notes on Revelation 17:6, 14; 18:24)
Revelation 17:7 “And the angel said unto me, Wherefore did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which has the seven heads and ten horns.”
The remainder of the chapter is the angel's interpretation of the “mystery” or the symbolism of the vision of verses 3-6. The “beast” is explained in verses 8-17 and the “woman” in verse 18.
Revelation 17:8 “The beast that you 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 beast that thou sawest - The beast of verse 3. John was not shown the beast in either its “was” or its “is not” state but in its revived state following the “is not” period. However, the angel briefly recounts the past career of this fearful creature by way of identifying the beast as John saw it. (See notes on verses 8-11)
In the introduction to the vision (verses 1-2) and in the vision itself (verses 3-6) John's attention was directed almost exclusively to the woman and the beast is mentioned almost incidentally. In the explanation (verses 7-18) the angel dwells almost altogether on the beast, together with its heads and horns. In the Greek of verses 7-18 only 36 words are devoted to the woman and 243 to the beast. This noteworthy difference between the vision and its explanation may suggest that although the announced topic of the vision is the divine sentence pronounced upon mystical Babylon, and although she proves to be the leading character in events depicted by the vision, her brief triumph and sudden fall can be understood only by a careful study of the contribution made by the beast, both to her momentary success and also to her eventual defeat.
Was, and is not - At some time in the past the beast had been active, but then disappeared. This expression is repeated at the close of verse 8 and again in verse 11. Some identify the “was” period of the beast with that of pagan Rome, the “is not” period with the brief interval between the end of pagan persecution and the beginning of Papal persecution and the “yet is” period with that of Papal Rome. Others equate the “was” period with that represented by the beast and its seven heads, the “is not” period with the interval between the wounding of the seventh head and the revival of the beast as “the eighth,” and the “yet is” period with the revival of the beast when it becomes “the eighth.” Those who hold the former view equate the “was” period of the beast with that of the dragon of chapter 12, whereas those who hold the latter view would include also the leopard like beast of chapter 13. The present tense, “is not,” stresses time sequence.
Shall ascend - Or “is about to ascend.” The angel still speaks of the career of the beast prior to its rising from the “bottomless pit.” At the time John saw this beast in vision it had already ascended “out of the bottomless pit.”
When the expression “was, and is not” is repeated at the close of verse 8, the words “yet is” but preferably “is to be” appear in place of the words “shall ascend out of the bottomless pit” used earlier in the verse. (see below on “yet is”) Accordingly, the beast “yet is” when it ascends “out of the bottomless pit.” The comparable words in this threefold sequence as given in verse 11 are “even he is the eighth.” Hence when the beast ascends “out of the bottomless pit” and “yet is,” it exists as “the eighth.” (literally “an eighth”) In verse 8 the beast goes “into perdition” after ascending out of “the bottomless pit” and existing for an unspecified period of time as “the eighth.”
When the beast exists again as “the eighth,” “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.” A very similar statement is made in Revelation 13:3, 8 (cf. verse 4) on the world's attitude toward the beast of that chapter when its deadly wound is healed: “All the world wondered after the beast … And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” If chapter 13 refers to the same event as Revelation 17:8, it means the statement “his deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:3) is equivalent to the expression “shall ascend out of the bottomless pit.” (Revelation 17:8; cf. Revelation 20:3, 7) In a similar way the words “did live” (Revelation 13:14) would be equivalent to the expressions “yet is” and “he is the eight.” (Revelation 17:8, 11) The wounding of the head, (Revelation 13:3) the going “into captivity” and “the wound by a sword” (Revelation 13:10, 14) would have their counterpart in the implied descent of the “beast” into the “bottomless pit.” (Revelation 17:8) And “death” (Revelation 13:3) would be equivalent to the “bottomless pit” phase of the experience of the beast. The similarities noted here tend to identify the seventh head of the beast as the Papal head. (see notes on Revelation 17:9-10) But this similarity does not necessarily prove identity. For the relationship of the beast of chapter 17 to that of chapter 13, see notes on verse 3.
Bottomless pit - Greek abussos - Meaning literally “abyss” implying a vast and measureless space. (Mark 5:10; Revelation 9:1) In the LXX it generally refers either to the depths of the sea or to subterranean waters. In the LXX of Psalms 71:20 and in Romans 10:7 it is used of the underworld or place of the dead commonly called Hades. (Matthew 11:23; cf. 2 Samuel 12:23; Proverbs 15:11; Isaiah 14:9) Descent into the “abyss” would thus be a fitting term to represent the death of a beast that appeared to have been slain.
Perdition - Greek apoleia - Meaning “utter destruction,” “annihilation.” (John 17:12) This indicates the utter end of the beast. (cf. Revelation 17:11; see notes on Revelation 19:20; 20:10)
They that dwell - Those upon whom the “whore … sitteth” (verse 1) and who “have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (verse 2) Compare Revelation 13:3-4, 7-8, 12, 14; see notes on Revelation 17:1-2.
Wonder - Greek thaumazo - Meaning “to be amazed,” “to marvel.” (See notes on verse 6) The people of earth are amazed to see the beast, which they had seen go into the “bottomless pit” (verse 8) return and take up its former activities. They first “wonder” and then worship, (Revelation 13:3-4, 8, 12, 14) that is yield their support to the beast in the pursuit of its blasphemous schemes.
Not written - Not listed with those whom God accepts for His kingdom.
Book of life - See Philippians 4:3.
From the foundation - The Greek may be understood as implying that the names appearing in the book of life have been written there ever since “the foundation of the world,” or simply that the book itself has been in existence since that time. Here the latter meaning is intended. Compare notes on Revelation 13:8.
Yet is - Textual evidence favors the reading “is to be” or “is to come.” See above on “was, and is not” and “shall ascend.”
Revelation 17:9 “And here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.”
The mind which hath wisdom - Compare Revelation 13:18. The angel introduces his explanation of “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is” of Revelation 17:8. What John had been shown was a “mystery” (cf. verse 7; see notes on verse 5) in the sense that reality had been concealed in symbolic language, and it would require “wisdom” to understand the figurative in terms of the literal. Although the angels statement probably refers mostly to the enigma of verse 8 and thus especially to the explanation in verses 9-10, it is also true of the entire vision and thus of the explanation of verses 10-18 as a whole.
Seven heads - These represent seven major political powers through which Satan has sought to destroy the people and work of God on earth. (See notes on verses 2-3, 6, 10) Whether or not Inspiration intended these heads to be identified with seven specific nations of history is not clear, since in the Revelation the number “seven” often has a symbolic rather than a literal numerical value. (see notes on Revelation 1:11) Accordingly some have understood the seven heads to represent all political opposition to the people and cause of God on earth throughout history without specifying seven particular nations.
Others assume the powers represented by the seven heads must be seven specific nations already referred to in the various prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. They identify the first four heads with the four great world empires of Daniel 2 and 7, the fifth with the little horn of chapters 7 and 8, and the leopard like beast of chapter 13, the sixth with the power represented in Revelation 11:7, and the seventh with the two-horned beast of Revelation 13:11. According to this interpretation, the powers represented by the first five heads would be Babylon, Persia, Greece, the Roman Empire and the Papacy. The sixth and seventh heads might be revolutionary France and the United States or the United States and a world organization or the United States and a restored Papacy.
Still others consider that the seven heads represent major persecuting powers since God first had a chosen people and an organized work on earth and accordingly specify Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, the Roman Empire and the Papacy. Those who follow this interpretation call attention to the important role of Egypt and Assyria with respect to Israel in Old Testament history and prophecy. They also point to the following circumstances when each of these seven powers in turn attempted either to destroy God's people or to subjugate them or to obliterate their distinctive religious character:
(1) Egypt at the Red Sea. Exodus 14:9-30
(2) Assyria under Sennacherib. Isaiah 8:4-8; 36:1-15; 37:3-37
(3) Babylon during the Captivity. Jeremiah 39:9-10; 52:13-15
(4) Persia under Haman. Esther 3:8-9; 7:4; 9:1-6
(5) Greece under Antiochus Epiphanes. 1 Maccabees 1:20-64; 3:42; 4:14, 36-54
(6) Rome in its persecution of both Jews and Christians. Daniel 8:9-12, 24-25; Matthew 24:15, 21; Luke 21:20-24; Revelation 2:10, 13
(7) the Papacy throughout her history. Daniel 7:21, 25; 8:24; 11:33, 35.
In view of the fact that Inspiration has not indicated whether the seven heads are to be understood as representing seven particular nations and has not specified any point of time from which they are to be reckoned, this commentary considers that evidence is insufficient to warrant a dogmatic identification of them. chapter 17 is concerned with the beast during its “yet is” period when it is “the eighth” (See notes on verses 8, 11) and the interpretation of the basic message of the chapter is fortunately not dependent upon the identification of the seven heads.
Mountains - A common prophetic symbol designating political or religio-political powers. (see Isaiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 17:3; 31:23; 51:24, 25; Ezekiel 17:22-23; etc) This symbol may also be an allusion to the city of Rome with its seven hills. Classical writers often refer to Rome as the City of Seven Hills. In the early centuries Christians commonly referred to Rome as “Babylon” (see 1 Peter 5:13; Revelation 14:8) probably to avoid being considered as subversives when they spoke and wrote concerning Rome's anti-Christian activities and the impending judgments of God upon her. In view of the historical relationship of ancient Babylon to the people of God in Old Testament times, the term “Babylon” as applied to Rome in its relations with Christianity was appropriate.
The woman sitteth - Here the angel refers to the “woman” as sitting upon the seven “heads” whereas in verse 3 she is spoken of simply as seated upon the “beast.” Thus to be seated upon the seven heads is apparently the same as being seated upon the beast. Accordingly there is no real distinction between the beast and its heads. No difference is probably intended.
Revelation 17:10 “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.”
And there are seven kings - Or “and seven kings are they.” These “kings” are not in addition to the “heads” and the “mountains” but presumably identified with them. How much distinction if any is intended between the “kings” and the “mountains” is not clear.
Five are fallen - The time at which it may be stated that five of the heads have “fallen,” that one “is,” and that the other has “not yet come” is not clearly indicated. Generally speaking expositors hold one of three different views with respect to the point of time indicated here:
(1) According to the interpretation making the seven heads representative of all powers that oppose God's people and work on earth irrespective of number, this statement would simply mean that a majority of the powers represented had already passed off the stage of history.
(2) Those who enumerate the first five heads as Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and the Papacy consider that these five had all fallen at the time the deadly wound was finally administered to the Papal head of the beast in 1798. (see notes on Revelation 13:3-4)
(3) Those who number the first five heads as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece consider that the point indicated by verse 10 is the time of John when the vision was given. See notes on verse 9.
One is - According to the second view, France or the United States after 1798, and according to the third view, the Roman Empire in John's day. (see above on “five are fallen”)
The other - According to the first view, the minority of political powers yet to play their part, according to the second view, the United States or some world organization such as the League of Nations or the United Nations, according to the third view, the Papacy. (see above on “five are fallen”) It may be noted that if the events foretold in chapter 17 are in part identical with those of chapter 13, (see notes on Revelation 17:3, 8) it follows that the Papal head is the one here designated “the other.”
A short space - Greek oligos - Used 34 times in the New Testament in the sense of “few,” “little,” “small” to specify quantity, and 8 times in the sense of “short” to specify time. (see notes on Revelation 12:12) The clause may be translated either “It is necessary that he remain little” or “It is necessary that he continue briefly,” possibly in the sense of a “limited time” in contrast with an unlimited time. In Revelation 12:12 oligos refers to the “short time” allotted to Satan after his defeat at the cross. Perhaps the angel here reassures John that Satan and more particularly the power (or powers) represented by the seventh head can never fully attain their objectives. Or that their tenure has been strictly limited. Some here understand oligos literally as indicating a short period of time.
Revelation 17:11 “And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.”
The beast that was - See notes on verse 8.
Even he is the eighth - Literally “also himself is an eighth.” This is the beast in its revived state in the “yet is” period following its ascent out of the “bottomless pit.” (See notes on verses 8, 10) Some consider the eighth power to be the Papacy alone. Others suggest that it represents Satan. Those who take the latter view point at the time indicated here believe Satan attempts to impersonate Christ. (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8)
Of the seven - Literally “out of the seven.” The beast itself “the eighth” was it would seem the same beast to which the seven heads had been attached. (cf. Revelation 13:11-12) Absence in the Greek of the definite article before the word “eighth” suggests that the beast itself was the real authority back of the seven heads and that it is therefore more than merely another head of the eighth in a series. It is their summation and climax; the beast itself. In the Greek the word for “eighth” is masculine and so cannot refer to a head, the word for which is feminine.
Perdition - See notes on verse 8.
Revelation 17:12 “And the ten horns which you sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.”
Ten horns - Compare Daniel 7:24; Revelation 12:3; 13:1; Daniel 7:7; Revelation 12:3.
No kingdom as yet - According to some, the number “ten” specifies ten particular “kings” or nations. Others consider “ten” to be a round number and as such to refer to all the powers of the category spoken of as “horns” irrespective of their precise arithmetical number. Such usage is common elsewhere in Scripture. (see notes on Revelation 12:3) Some take these ten horns to represent the same ten powers specified in Daniel and earlier in the Revelation. Others on the basis that these ten “receive power as kings one hour with the beast” consider that they cannot be identified with the nations that arose during the breakup of the Roman Empire.
Hour - Greek hora - Meaning “season,” “daytime,” (in contrast with nighttime) “a day,” “an hour [a twelfth of the daylight hours]” and a definite point of “time.” In Matthew 14:15 hora is translated “time” meaning daytime. Other such instances are Matthew 18:1; John 16:2, 4, 25; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 14:15. Hora is translated “day” in Mark 6:35, “instant” in Luke 2:38, “season” in 2 Corinthians 7:8 and Philemon 15, “short time” in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, “high time” in Romans 13:11 and “eventide” in Mark 11:11. Obviously the meaning of hora in any particular instance must be determined by the context.
Some have taken the “one hour” of Revelation 17:12 as prophetic time to which it would represent a period of about two weeks of literal time. However, the context seems to imply otherwise. It is generally recognized that chapter 18 gives a more detailed explanation of events described in Revelation 17:12-17. But the period of time designated as “one day” in Revelation 18:8 is also called “one hour” in verses 10, 17, 19, the obvious intent of Inspiration being to indicate a brief period of time without specifying its exact length. Accordingly, it seems preferable to take the expression “one hour” in Revelation 17:12 in the same sense as indicating a brief but unspecified period of “time.”
Periods of time mentioned in prophetic passages of Scripture do not always designate what is commonly known as prophetic time. For instance, the 7 years of famine predicted by Joseph were literal years (Genesis 41:25-31) as is also true of the 40 years of wandering in Numbers 14:34. The same might be said of the 400 years of Genesis climax of satanic planning for the unification of the world through a compact between the apostate religious organizations of earth as represented by the woman, and the political powers of earth as represented by the beast. (see notes on Revelation 16:13-14; 17:3) It was apparently during this brief “hour” that John saw the “woman” seated upon the “beast” at the apex of her career and “drunken” with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus. (verses 3-6)
Revelation 17:13 “These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.”
Mind - Greek gnome - Meaning “opinion,” “intention,” “purpose,” “resolve,” “decree.” In verse 17 gnome is translated “will.” The “mind” of the nations of earth is entirely opposed to that of God. The nations of earth represented by the ten horns here purpose to unite with the “beast” (see notes on verse 3) in forcing the inhabitants of earth to drink the “wine” of Babylon, (See notes on verse 2) to unite the world under her control and to destroy all who refuse to cooperate. (see notes on verse 14) Compare on Revelation 16:12-16.
And shall give - Literally “that is, they shall give.” See below on “strength.”
Power - Greek dunamis - Meaning “[potential] capability,” meaning the ability to carry out a resolve. It is through the agency of its ten horns that the beast sets out to achieve its objective.
Strength - Greek exousia - Meaning “authority.” (Mark 2:10; Romans 13:1) The statement reads literally “These have one purpose, that is, they shall give their capacity and authority to the beast.” This unanimous consent of the nations is achieved through the agency of the three evil “spirits.” (see notes on Revelation 16:13-14) Now that probation has closed, God permits a worldwide religio-political union whose objective is the annihilation of His people. Such a plan He has held in check ever since the days of Babel, (Genesis 11:4-8; Daniel 2:43; Revelation 14:8) but now He withdraws His restraining hand. (Revelation 17:17; cf. 2 Chronicles 18:18)
Revelation 17:14 “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”
Make war - Join battle with the world united (see notes on Revelation 16:12-16; 17:13) under the leadership of the “beast” of verses 3, 8, 11, the final stage of the age long warfare against Christ and His people now begins. This stage of the conflict termed “the battle of that great day of God Almighty,” (Revelation 16:14) is described more fully in Revelation 19:11-21. Under the sixth plague, preparations are made for the battle, (see notes on Revelation 16:12-16) which is fought under the seventh.
The Lamb - See notes on Revelation 5:6.
Overcome them - God's faithful people who have suffered so long at the hands of their enemies (Revelation 6:9-11; 12:13-17; 13:7, 15) are delivered when He who is “Lord of lords, and King of kings” lays bare His mighty arm and comes forth to champion their cause. (see notes on Revelation 11:15, 17; 18:20; 19:2, 11-21) Christ intervenes at the moment the forces of evil launch their attack on the saints at the opening of the seventh plague. (see notes on Revelation 16:17)
Lord of lords - The title “Lord of lords, and Kings of kings” is used in Scripture of Christ as He returns to earth to vanquish the hosts of evil and to deliver His loyal people. (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16; cf. Matthew 25:31; Revelation 1:5; 17:14)
With - Greek meta - Here meaning “in company with.” (See notes on verse 1)
Called - Literally “invited.” In the NT, to obtain eternal salvation. (see Matthew 22:3, 14)
Chosen - Or “selected.” Not all who are “called” qualify to be “chosen.” For the distinction between “called” and “chosen.” (Matthew 22:14; cf. John 1:12)
Faithful - Or “worthy of trust,” “reliable.” Those who have been “chosen” must remain “faithful” even “unto death” (Revelation 2:10) if necessary in order to be counted “with Him.” Addition of the word “faithful” here implies that it is not sufficient to be “called” and “chosen.” In other words, those who once enter into the experience of grace through faith in Christ must “remain” in grace if they are to be eligible to enter the kingdom of glory. (John 3:18-20; Ephesians 1:4-5; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15; cf. Ezekiel 3:20; 18:24; 33:12)
Revelation 17:15 “And he saith unto me, The waters which you sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
He saith unto me - See notes on Revelation 17:1.
Waters - See notes on verse 1. For other instances of waters as a symbol for human beings, see Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 7:2.
Sitteth - Or “is sitting.” Here the angel again refers to what John saw in verses 3-6, within the time period specified by verses 11-13.
Revelation 17:16 “And the ten horns which you 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.”
The ten horns - See notes on verse 12.
Upon the beast - Textual evidence attests the reading “and the beast.” The horns and the beast participate in executing the divine sentence upon Babylon. Concerning the identity of the beast See notes on verse 3.
Shall hate - This represents a change of attitude on the part of the “beast” and the “horns.” Some apply this attitude on the part of the ten horns to the attitude of some of the nations of Western Europe toward the Papacy since Reformation times. Others consider that the fulfillment of this prediction is yet future and the horns had given their support to the policies advocated by the “woman,” (see notes on verses 3, 9, 13) particularly to the plot to slay the saints. (see notes on verse 14) But when Christ overcomes them (verse 14) they turn on her realizing that she has deceived them. (See notes on verse 2)
The whore - See notes on verse 1.
Desolate - Greek eremoo - Meaning “to desolate,” “to lay waste.” (cf. verse 3) The form of the word in Greek implies that “the whore” will ever remain “desolate.” (see notes on Revelation 18:21) For a more complete description of the harlot's desolate state see Revelation 18:22-23.
Naked - Deprived of her gorgeous attire, (verses 3-4) and thus left in embarrassment and shame. (cf. Ezekiel 23:29; Revelation 16:15)
Flesh - Literally “flesh pieces,” which stresses the action of devouring and the completeness of the act. As a beast of prey rends and tears its victim in the process of devouring it, so “the whore” is to be destroyed without pity by the very powers that had so recently supported her. (see above on “shall hate”)
Burn her - Literally “burn her up completely.” Compare Revelation 18:8, which reads: “she shall be utterly burned with fire.” A figurative woman would be burned figuratively of course. See notes on Revelation 18:8-9; cf. Ezekiel 28:17-19.
Revelation 17:17 “For God has put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”
God hath put - The “ten horns” and the “beast” (See notes on verse 16) are authorized by God to execute the divine “judgment,” or “sentence” passed upon “Babylon” for her crimes. (see notes on Revelation 17:1; cf. 1 Samuel 16:14; 2 Chronicles 18:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:11) Accordingly, Revelation 17:16-17 constitutes the climax of the chapter presenting as it does “the judgment of [or, “sentence upon”] the great whore,” the topic announced by the angel in verse 1. Everything else is preparatory to and explanatory of this account of the fate of “Babylon the great.” Verses 2-6 provide a catalogue of her crimes, (See notes on verse 6) and thus an explanation of why the sentence has been pronounced upon her. Whereas verses 8-18 set forth the means by which or how the sentence will be executed. (see notes on verse 1) This sentence will be meted out to Babylon under the seventh plague. (see Revelation 16:19; cf. Revelation 16:19; 18:5, 21; 19:2)
Hearts - Or “minds.”
Fulfil his will - To carry out the “purpose” or “decree” (see notes on verse 13) of the heavenly assize concerning “the great whore.” (see notes on Revelation 16:19; 17:1)
Give their kingdom - See notes on verse 13.
Words of God - His “will” as expressed in the sentence against mystical Babylon. (see Revelation 16:17, 19; 17:1)
Fulfilled - Until the sentence is fully executed. The united apostate religious organizations of the world, (see notes on Revelation 16:13) together with their leaders are first to fall as the political side of the universal religio-political coalition (see notes on Revelation 16:13; 17:5) becomes an instrument in the hands of God to execute the sentence against the religious side of the union. (cf. Isaiah 10:5; 13:4-9; 14:4, 6; 28:17-22; 47:11-15; Jeremiah 25:14, 34-38; 50:9-15, 29-31; 51:49; Ezekiel 26:3; Daniel 11:45; Zechariah 11:10; see notes on Revelation 19:2)
Revelation 17:18 “And the woman which you sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
The woman - See notes on verse 3.
That great city - Literal Babylon was the “great city” of ancient times. From the days of Babel the city of Babylon has been representative of organized opposition to the purposes of God on earth. (Genesis 11:4-6; Revelation 14:8) A city is a highly organized and integrated association of human beings. Hence how appropriate is “Babylon the great” as a prophetic symbol for the organized, universal apostate religious organization.
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