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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

Revelation 17

 

 

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Verses 1-18

THIS was one of the angels who had the seven vials of wrath. He has already poured out his vial, but is still on hand, and at this time becomes the Lord’s messenger to the apostle. To the harlot of Babylon, who now becomes the most conspicuous character in the scene passing on the prophetic drama, in the statement that “she is sitting upon many waters,” we have a confirmation of what I have frequently told you in this book; i.e., the sea means the people, while the rivers and fountains of water typify the subordinate rulers. The harlot here spoken of is none other than the Roman Catholic Church.

2. With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and those dwelling upon the earth were made drunk from the wine of her fornication.” All spiritual deflection from God, and all anti-holiness religions, are denominated “fornication” in the Bible. Here we find it stated that all the people in the world have been made drunk from the wine of her fornication. That is certainly a very strong affirmation; but when we consider the fact that regeneration takes us out of the world, we see that this sweeping implication only applies to the unsaved. An intoxicated man is carried away with dreamy visions, illusory phantoms, and flighty imaginations. So it is with the votaries of a false religion. They vainly flatter themselves that they are saved, when they are lost; that they are traveling up the King’s highway to heaven, when they are in the broad road to hell.

3. This verse strikingly contrasts with Revelation 12:14. where the bride of Christ flies from the bloody dragon and makes her escape into the wilderness. Hence we must return thither to find her again. To John’s Unutterable astonishment, he finds her no longer flying from the ferocious beast, but sitting on his back, arrayed in silk, scarlet, and bedecked with gold, diamonds, and jewelry of every kind. It is abundantly revealed in these prophecies that this is the fallen bride — the harlot of Babylon. The pompous pretensions of the papacy amount to the most horrific blasphemy. The “seven heads” are the kingdom, the consulate, the dictator, the triumvirate, the tribuneship, the empire, and the papacy. The

ten horns” are the ten kingdoms into which the Roman Empire was disintegrated upon its downfall, A.D. 476.

4, 5. Here Romanism is pronounced the mother of harlots — “the abominations of the earth.” In the preceding verses she is designated a harlot, and now the mother of harlots. The harlotry in the Bible means counterfeit religion; i.e., the devil’s religion. When the people take the Babylonian delusion for religion, this old harlot, who is none other than the devil’s wife, always simultaneously administers the wine of intoxication, so as to utterly hallucinate them with the pertinacious, chimerical dream that they are certainly bona fide Christians. While Romanism is the mother of all spiritual harlotry, we must remember that her prostitute daughters are in all the great Churches of Christendom. In this way the apostasy of all Churches supervenes. “Abominations” means the worship of anything and everything except God, and is synonymous with idolatry. Ecclesiasticism itself is abominable idolatry, growing on indefinitely, and undermining the simplicity of the Apostolic Church. The papacy is the culmination of all ecclesiasticism. It is unmistakably patent that all Churchisms have an inherent papistical trend. The Greek ecclesia means Church. It is from ek (out of), and kaleo (to call). Hence it simply means the called out; i.e., the people whom the Holy Ghost has called out of the world. This is the only Bible definition of Church. The Church is true and orthodox so long as she adheres to this definition. The prophet says God made man upright — i.e., perfect — but he has sought out many inventions. This predilection of fallen humanity to add to God’s institutions has derailed, humanized, despiritualized, degospelized, and ruined the Church in all ages. In this way originated Babylon, the old mother-harlot, and her innumerable family of daughters, belting the globe with their Briarian arms and blighting multiplied millions of souls with the withering siroccos of their pestilential breath. The Methodist Church is already crammed chuck-full of human institutions, and still they are constantly making more. The effect is to crowd God out, leave the people no time to serve Him, and run them all into Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. For this reason the normal tendency of the popular Churches of all denominations nowadays is to cause the people to backslide, dry up spiritually, become servants of the Church rather than God, run into ecclesiasticism (a species of idolatry), get farther and farther from God, and make their bed in hell. God has raised up the Holiness movement to rescue honest souls who have not gone beyond the dead-line into the awful whirlpool of dead Churchism. In this way all the great Protestant Churches of the world are going at race-horse speed headlong into popery.

Since the pope lost his temporal power in 1870, be has been seeking, through a thousand subterranean devices, to regain his lost ground. Leo XIII, in a recent encyclical, kindly invited all the Protestants to come back. To this invitation they all said “No.” But still they come in a way they know not. Satan is the great deceiver. When people fall in with him, they never aim to do it. He is the uncompromising rival of Christ, and the fallen Church — i.e., Babylon, the mother of harlots — is his wife, the implacable enemy of the true Church, the bride of Christ. Antichrist climaxes all opposition to Christ by claiming to be Christ himself. Just so Babylon is the arch enemy of the true Church because she claims to be the true Church.

6. I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, and seeing her, I was astonished with great astonishment.” The woman — the harlot of Babylon, the fallen Church, the devil’s disciple — is drunk with the blood of God’s saints and martyrs. History bears testimony to the appalling fact that she has murdered two hundred millions of saints. It is a significant fact that the secular powers have never slaughtered God’s people Unless manipulated by the ecclesiastical. The counterfeit bride is the implacable rival of the true, and has done her utmost to destroy her in all ages. The present opposition to holiness is the very venom and rage of the Babylonian hag. Why was John so unutterably astonished? The word “admiration,” in English, is utterly wrong and misleading. John’s ineffable wonder was because he identified this drunken harlot, covered with the blood of God’s saints and riding the cruel beast of Romanism, with the humble bride of Christ he saw fly from the bloody beast in the 12th chapter. The identity was indiscernible, save by the revelation of the Holy Ghost. This confirms most indubitably the apostasy of the Church. In a similar sense, Satan was once a bright archangel in heaven. The devil has no creative power, and God can’t create sin. But the devil has illimitable power of transformation. The fallen Church is a sad monument of this power. This wonderful transformation is so cunningly manipulated by the great deceiver that the victim never knows it till the Holy Ghost shines in. These two hundred millions of God’s humble saints have all been accompanied to the burning stake by a long-faced clergyman, who believed the cruel martyrdom was right and necessary to the glory of God and the good of his Church. Jesus Himself heads our list. When Caiaphas, the high priest of Jerusalem, signed His death-warrant, he assuredly believed he was doing God service. Thus multiplied millions this day serve the devil, thinking they are worshipping God; and belong to the Babylonian apostasy, thinking they belong to the Church of God. What is the remedy? God’s word, Spirit, and providence. This triple dance is infallible. Civil government is the only present preventive of martyrdom. Blood and torture would belt the globe if gunboats and bayonets did not intimidate the votaries of Babylon.

God’s Church, the divine ecclesia i.e., the souls called out of the world by the Holy Ghost — is under the direct government of the Holy Ghost. It is the only earthly survivor of the theocracy. God’s original purpose was to rule the world in Church and State in the heaven-born theocracy.

The last political vestige went out of His hands at the fall of Jerusalem B.C. 87. Since that time the ecclesia has been launched, in which he proposes to rule faithful bands. Ecclesia means God’s Church, over which the Holy Ghost always presides. When men take into hands the government of the Church, they usurp the office of the Holy Ghost. This is downright robbery. Will a man rob God? As a rule, the men who commit this awful crime are so hallucinated by the devil that they think they are doing God service; and if they do not take the government of the Church into hand, it will certainly go to ruin. Uzzah thought the Ark would be ruined if he did not hold it; but he only lost his life and arrested the progress of the Ark.

So the man who usurps the office of the Holy Ghost loses his soul and ruins the Church. Where can you find a Church, outside of the Holiness movement, which is not under human rule and spiritually dead? The ecclesia is Divine, and ruled by the Holy Ghost. The ecclesiasticism is human, and ruled by men, the Spirit having retreated away because He was superseded by men. In this way originated priestcraft, prelacy, and popery, followed by all the horrors of the autodafe and the Inquisition.

7. I will tell thee the mystery of the woman and the beast that carrieth her.” The Greek musterion i.e., mystery — means a secret which is to be revealed. God’s religion is a profound mystery, which none but Himself can reveal. He has revealed it to me, but I cannot, to save my life, reveal it to another. It is a matter of history that when the Church apostatized into Romanism she became a secret society, and is yet. Just as God’s people receive a secret from Him, so Satan’s people receive a secret from him.

The devil reigns in fallen Churches under the name of God, imparting the secret of his soul-destroying sorcery, by which he gulls and stupefies his devotees till he can dump them into hell. We find, by personal appeal, that very few Church people have an acquaintance with God and a knowledge of sins forgiven. They are resting in carnal security amid the ambrosial delusions of Satan, who has beguiled them with false hopes, founded on a spurious faith. Woman, throughout the Bible, means the Church. The fair, chaste bride of Christ is the true Church, the mother of God’s children. This old harlot is the counterfeit bride, the devil’s wife, the mother of his children. This beast is a wonderfully conspicuous figure in these prophecies. The Greek theerion means a ferocious, bloodthirsty wild beast. It represents all human governments contrastively with the theocracy. As Rome is the greatest and most conspicuous of all human governments, here we find the beast playing the most prominent part.

Revelation 12 : He has seven heads and ten horns; i.e.,

(1) the kingdom,

(2) the consulate,

(3) the dictatorship,

(4) the triumvirate,

(5) the tribuneship,

(6) the empire, and

(7) the papacy.

The ten horns are the ten kingdoms into which the empire was disintegrated when destroyed by the Huns, Goths, and Vandals, A.D. 476, and which remain, with little modification, to this day. Romanism, the great power of antichrist, has a duplicate organization, the political and ecclesiastical, the former typified by the beast and the latter by the woman. Hence, in the figure, the drunken harlot is debauched Romanism and her fallen daughters in a more remote sense, while the beast is the secular power supporting these fallen Churches.

8. The beast was, is not, and yet is.” The Bible abounds in enigmas to sharpen our wits and impress the truth more vividly. Jesus says: “Let the dead bury the dead;” i.e., the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. This wonderful beast was in the capacity of pagan Rome, but having been destroyed A.D. 476, he is not in that form. Since the pope succeeded Caesar on the throne and perpetuated the empire, the beast is yet in the capacity of papal Rome. Since this beast is a medley of contradictions, all the world wondered after him and worshipped him — i.e. dragon, the devil — gave the beast power and His throne.

9, 10. Rome stands on seven hills. I saw them last summer. These are one phase of the seven heads. “There are seven kings : five have fallen, one is, and another has yet to come, and when he may come it behooveth him to remain a little time.” Here comes in the other more prominent phase of the seven heads; i.e. seven kings, or kingdoms (the concrete for the abstract). Rome was first ruled by kings, then by consuls, then by dictators, then by triumvirs, and then by tribunes. These five forms of government had all passed away before John’s day. Hence he says, “Five of the kings have fallen.” “One is;” i.e., the Roman Empire, under which John lived, and that was the sixth head of the beast. “One has not yet come;” i.e. papal head of the Roman world. The empire continued nearly four hundred years after this prophecy before it passed away and the papacy supervened. “When he — i.e., the pope — comes, it behooves him to remain a little time.” The papistical period in prophecy is 1260 — a short time contrastively with the lapse of ages, and especially the cycles of eternity.

11. The beast which was, and is not, is himself the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” Now, who is this wonderful eighth beast? He is said to he one of the seven. Who are the seven? The kings, consuls, dictators, triumvirs, tribunes, emperors, and popes constitute the seven heads of the Roman beast. Since all these are dead and gone long ago, except the popes, it follows as an irresistible, logical sequence that the pope is the eighth beast. How can the pope he the seventh and the eighth too? Of course, when he passes from the seventh to the eighth, he assumes a new character. What is this character? It is that of antichrist. Hence we see from this prophecy that the pope is to become antichrist early in the tribulation. At present, the censorship of Babylon is the chief papal prerogative. As Babylon will fall about the middle of the tribulation, doubtless the papacy will undergo a radical revolution, assuming a decidedly more political, dogmatic, imperious, defiant, blasphemous attitude than ever before.

THE ANTICHRISTHOOD

The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Christ of the new. Hence the excarnate Christ is the hero of the Old Testament, and the Incarnate of the New. Hence we see that the Christhood has always been progressive, and destined to culminate in the glorious millennial kingdom. It is equally true that the antichristhood has always been progressive. Every positive has its negative. Thus the antichristhood is the simple and normal negative of the Christhood. The word “antichrist” is from anti (instead of), and Christ. While this is the original definition and attitude, the secondary definition — i.e., the implacable enemy and indefatigable rival of Christ-assumes transcendent importance. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 :

“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above everything that is called God or divinity, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself off that he is God.”

This inspired definition of Paul certainly does vividly describe the most pompous, pedantic, egotistical, defiant, and blasphemous rivalship of the Most High. When the sixth angel pours out his vial of wrath on the Euphrates, and those three unclean spirits, like frogs, shall come out of the mouth of the beast, the dragon, and the false prophet — i.e., paganism, Romanism, and Mohammedanism — and stir up the whole world to the great wars of Armageddon, in which all the powers of earth and hell will be arrayed against God Almighty — i.e. all human governments, political and ecclesiastical, united against divine rule; i.e., God’s theocracy — the pope, being the more influential of the three, will doubtless subordinate the other two departments of Satandom, assume the supremacy, and proclaim himself the incarnate Christ. Under these blasphemous assumptions, ambuscaded by the spiritual darkness which will fill the world after the Lord takes up His saints in the cloud, the first resurrection and concomitant translations having transpired, the pope, environed by the carnal millions of all nations, Catholic, Moslem, and heathen, will doubtless not only command their loyalty, but their adoration. During the terrible darkness of the tribulation (Daniel 7:9), the Ancient of Days — i.e., God the Father, who has no incarnation, and is consequently invisible — will be here sitting on His judgment-throne, executing the just and awful retributions on the rebel nations and Babylonian Churches throughout the world. In consequence of the dismal spiritual night, which shall anticipate the bright millennial day, and the unprecedented activity of Satan, tremulously prognosticating his approaching doom, antichrist, through priestcraft, statecraft, witchcraft — i.e., spiritualism, socialism, secularism — and every species of diabolism, will rally the whole world against truth, righteousness, purity, and godliness, as never before. Daniel 12:1 :

“There shall be a time of trouble, such as was never since there was a nation, even to that same time.”

This describes the great tribulation. It was an awful time when the Flood came and swept the world into eternity. When God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorra, it was appalling in the extreme. When the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem, and the sword, pestilence, and famine slew a million of people, and a million more were sold into slavery, it was unutterably awful. But we are assured by Daniel, John, and Jesus that the horrors of the tribulation will transcend all the woes this wicked world, in six thousand years, has known. I am on the daily outlook for the Lord to come and take up the members of the bridehood, translating the living and raising the dead. Who is ready to meet Him in the cloud? This is our only hope of escaping the tribulations, unless the Lord takes Us to heaven after they set in.

12. John tells us the ten horns are ten kingdoms that have not risen in his day. They did not rise until after the fall of the universal Roman empire, A.D. 476. Horn, in the Bible, means political power. When great Rome fell, her worldwide territory was broken up into ten kingdoms, which remain to the present day much in their original integrity. At the present day, the great political powers of the earth are about ten. The pope was crowned A.D. 606, and dethroned in 1870, according to prophecy. He exercised his prerogative as universal bishop soon after the dethronement of Caesar in 476. From about this time the kings generally succumbed to his ipse dixit, till the Lutheran Reformation terribly relaxed his grip.

13. These have one mind, and give their authority and power to the beast;” i.e., the pope. For more than a thousand years this prophecy has been signally verified within the above dates.

14. This verse prophesies the glorious triumph of Christ over all these secular and ecclesiastical enemies. We hail it with joyful enthusiasm.

15. You see in this verse a confirmation of much preceding interpretation, recognizing the sea, rivers, and fountains as symbolizing the people.

16. DIVORCEMENT OF CHURCH AND STATE.

The ten horns which you saw, and the beast. these shall hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” This prophecy is now rapidly being fulfilled. The secular powers, which tamely submitted to papistical interference and dictation, are now everywhere in rebellion. The Jesuits have been driven out of France, the most Catholic country on the globe. Not only the sovereigns of the old world, but Mexico, Central and South America, are ready in rebellion against the papal authority. So the time has come when the “horns” hate the “whore.” They will soon eat her flesh; i.e., confiscate her immense possessions in their kingdoms. This is coming during the tribulation, and will expedite her ruin; i.e., the fall of Babylon. The Roman Catholic Church has more financial ability than any nation on the earth. We see from this prophecy she is destined to lose it all. The secular governments will confiscate it; i.e., eat her flesh. “Burn her with fire.” Fire, throughout the Bible, symbolizes destruction. It is the constant symbol of sanctification, because this means sin’s destruction. Hence we see the secular powers are going to find out the awful imposition of ages and execute vengeance. You see the prophetic drama. This fallen woman is now riding the bloody beast, one of whose meanings is the world power. He has dressed her in scarlet, and covered her with gold and diamonds, and is carrying her on his back. In turn she promises to take him to heaven when he dies. He is going to find out the lying delusion; that he is paying his millions to adorn her in queenly splendor and toiling to carry her on his back, and all this for naught; for instead of taking him to heaven, she is not going there herself. They must all together make their bed in hell. No wonder he will throw her over his head and devour her without mercy. The English says “the horns on the beast” will do this; but the Greek says, “The horns and the beast will hate the whore, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” While the harlot means the fallen Church, the beast means the world power. The horns are the different governments which have been identified with Romanism, and that will take in nearly every state this side of the Moslem power in the East. This is a practical solution of the fall of Babylon; i.e., the secular powers are going to smash her into atoms. We now see not only the established Churches of the old world riding the state, but the Laodicean Churches of America are everywhere mounted on the back of the world, enjoying a ride to the bottomless pit; e.g., in an average city Church of one thousand members, at least half of them are hurrying to destruction because they are wicked. But they constitute the society wing of the membership, have the money, fill the offices, and bear the financial burdens of the Church. While I was preaching in a Southern city, a pastor of twelve hundred members, being informed that a prominent brother was drunk, responded: “I know he drinks, but he pays well; I would rather he would get drunk and pay than shout and not pay.” Take the wicked members out of the wealthy Churches and they will pay hundreds instead of thousands. Thus we everywhere see the Church riding the world. Methodist Churches have been poisoned by the introduction of worldly lay representation. Formerly the bishops went to God and made the appointments; now the laymen dictate to the bishop. How seldom any but men of wealth are elected in the Conference delegation? How often do you find rich men with any religion? In this way even Methodist Churches have climbed up and taken their seats on the old bloody dragon, and are now riding the world. What will the end be? Echo answers, Wonderful things already make haste. The time is at hand when the world is going to wake up to the awful cheat, and find out that they are paying their money for naught. Then the beast (the world) will throw the woman (the Church) over his head, eat her flesh, drink her blood, and pick her bones. These awful tragedies will transpire during the oncoming tribulation. While the world is racked in a universal volcano, all nations rushing into deadly conflict, then, to augment the horror of the scene, Church and State will quarrel and fight.

17. God hath given it unto their hearts to do His will, and to have one will, and to give their power to the beast, till the words of God shall be fulfilled.” You must remember, Satan, the beast, and all other evil powers can only prevail by Divine permission. These evils belong to the mysteries of human probation. Ours is the period of the bridehood; hence, characterized by the most terrible temptations. The responsibilities of the bridehood are absolutely incalculable, sweeping on through all eternity, and involving the interest of myriads of worlds. Hence the importance that she pass through Satan’s flint-mills over and over. If she comes out with a shout of victory in her soul and loyalty to God every time, she is climbing Jacob’s ladder with cheering velocity. The devil, pope, and Mahomet, with their concomitant evil agencies, will tread down the world till the prophecies are fulfilled. I am glad the black reign of sin is nearly over. The Holiness movement is the morning star preceding the glorious millennial day. You must not think God is tied to the prophecies; they are tied to Him. If the Church had not permitted Satan to side-track her from the glorious doctrine and experience of entire sanctification, the millennium, with its floods of glory, would have filled the earth long ago. In that case the prophecies would have corroborated the facts. So all the kings of the earth gave their power to the pope till his appointed fall, which culminated in his temporal dethronement in 1870.

The Moslem power in the East is to fall in 1897. Ten thousand omens cheer us in the sanguine anticipation that this prophecy will be fulfilled. Still the papacy and Islam will continue to wield a wonderful influence, even to the very coming of our Lord to reign. Then they will be cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 19:20.)

18. The city of Rome has ruled the world two thousand years under the seven heads —

(1) kings,

(2) consuls,

(3) dictators,

(4) triumvirs,

(5) tribunes,

(6) emperors, an

(7) popes.

This city is the throne of the beast and the harlot.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/revelation-17.html.

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