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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Revelation 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

CH. Revelation 17:1 to Revelation 19:10.] THE JUDGMENT OF BABYLON. And herein, Revelation 17:1-6.] The description of Babylon under the figure of a drunken harlot, riding on the beast. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials (we are not told which of the seven, and it is idle to enquire. The seventh has been conjectured, because under the outpouring of his vial Babylon was remembered) and talked with me saying, Hither (see reff.), I will shew thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon [the] many waters, with whom the kings of the earth (have) committed fornication, and they who inhabit the earth have been made drunk from the wine ( ἐκ, the wine having been the source of their drunkenness) of her fornication (the figure here used, of a harlot who has committed fornication with secular kings and peoples, is frequent in the prophets, and has one principal meaning and application, viz. to God’s church and people that had forsaken Him and attached herself to others. In eighteen places out of twenty-one where the figure occurs, such is its import; viz. in Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 16:15-16; Ezekiel 16:28; Ezekiel 16:31; Ezekiel 16:35; Ezekiel 16:41; Ezekiel 23:5; Ezekiel 23:19; Ezekiel 23:44; Hosea 2:5; Hosea 3:3; Hosea 4:15 (Micah 1:7). In three places only is the word applied to heathen cities: viz. in Isaiah 23:15-16 to Tyre, where, Revelation 17:17, it is also said, “she shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth:” and in Nahum 3:4 to Nineveh, which is called the well-favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. And there the threat is pronounced of a very similar ruin to that which befalls Babylon here. So that the Scripture analogy, while it points to unfaithfulness and treachery against God’s covenant, also brings to mind extensive empire and wide-spread rule over the kingdoms of the earth. It is true, that as far as the image itself is concerned, pagan Rome as well fulfils its requirements as Tyre and Nineveh. It will depend on subsequent features in the description, whether we are to bound our view with her history and overthrow. Still, it will not be desirable to wait for the solution of this question till we arrive at the point where those features appear: for by so doing much of our intermediate exegesis will necessarily be obscured. The decisive test then which may at once be applied to solve the question, is derived from the prophecy of the destruction of Babylon in ch. Revelation 18:2. It is to be laid utterly waste, and to “become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Now no such destruction as this has yet befallen Rome, unless her transfer from pagan to papal rule be such a destruction, and the Pope and his ecclesiastics be described in the above terms. In an eloquent passage of Vitringa, he presses Bossuet with this dilemma. Again, it is said of this harlot, μεθʼ ἧς ἐπόρνευσαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς. But we may ask, if this be pagan Rome, who and what are these kings, and what is indicated by her having been the object of their lustful desires? In the days of Imperial Rome, there were no independent kings of the earth except in Parthia and Persia. Rome in her pagan state, as described for the purpose of identification in Revelation 17:18, was not one who intrigued with the kings of the earth, but ἡ ἔχουσα βασιλείαν ἐπὶ τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς: she reigned over them with undisputed and crushing sway.

I do not hesitate therefore, induced mainly by these considerations, which will be confirmed as we proceed step by step in the prophecy, to maintain that interpretation which regards papal and not pagan Rome as pointed out by the harlot of this vision. The subject has been amply discussed by many expositors. I would especially mention Vitringa, and Bp. Wordsworth.

The “sitting upon many waters” is said of Babylon in Jer. in reff., but has here a symbolical meaning; see below, Revelation 17:15. On the ἐμεθύσθησαν see ch. Revelation 14:8. The same thing is said of Babylon in Jer. l. c. But there she herself is the cup in the Lord’s hand). And he (the angel) carried me away to the wilderness (not, as Elliott, al., and even Düsterd., “a wilderness.” Such inferences from the absence of the art. in this later Greek, never secure, are more than ever unsafe when a preposition precedes: and the usage of the LXX should have prevented any such rendering here. In no fewer than twenty places (see Tromm.) they use the word ἔρημος anarthrously, where there can be no question that “the wilderness” is the only rendering. In fact it may be questioned whether the expressly indefinite rendering, “a wilderness,” is ever justifiable, except in case of predication, or junction with an adjective, without some further indication than the mere omission of the definite article after a preposition. Had it been intended here, we may safely say that εἰς τόπον ἔρημον, or εἰς τόπον τινὰ ἔρημον would have been used. The most natural way of accounting for the Seer being taken into the wilderness here, is that he was to be shewn Babylon, which was in the wilderness, and the overthrow of which, in the prophecy from which come the very words ἔπεσεν ( πέπτωκεν, LXX) βαβυλών (Isaiah 21:9), is headed τὸ ὅραμα τῆς ἐρήμου. So that by the analogy of prophecy, the journey to witness the fall of Babylon would be εἰς ἔρημον. The question of the identity of this woman with the woman in ch. 12 is not affected by that of the identity of this wilderness with that) in the spirit (see reff., and note on ch. Revelation 1:10): and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet beast (this beast is introduced as if a new appearance: but its identity with that mentioned before, ch. Revelation 13:1 ff., is plain as the description goes onward. For not to mention the features which the two have in common, this beast, as soon as described, is ever after mentioned as τὸ θηρίον: and in ch. Revelation 19:19-20 the identity is expressly established. For there we read, Revelation 19:19, that the beast and the kings of the earth make war against the Lamb, which beast can be no other than this on which the woman rides, cf. our Revelation 19:12-14 :—and in the next verse, ch. Revelation 19:20, we read that the beast was taken, and the false prophet who did miracles before him, which beast can be no other than that of ch. 13. See Revelation 19:14 there. The identity of the two is therefore matter not of opinion, but of demonstration. The differences in appearance doubtless are significant. That with which we are now concerned, the scarlet colour, is to be understood as belonging not to a covering on the beast, but to the beast itself. It is akin to the colour of the dragon ( πυῤῥός), but as that is the redness of fire (see however ch. Revelation 6:4), so is this of blood, with which both the beast and its rider are dyed. It was the colour, see ref. Heb., of the wool to be used in sprinkling the blood of sacrifice. There may be an allusion to the Roman imperial purple: for the robe which was put on our Lord in mockery was κόκκινος, ref. Matt. But this is more probably conveyed by its own proper word in the next verse.

By the woman sitting on the wild-beast, is signified that superintending and guiding power which the rider possesses over his beast: than which nothing could be chosen more apt to represent the superiority claimed and exercised by the See of Rome over the secular kingdoms of Christendom), full of names of blasphemy (for the construction with accus., see reff., and Winer, edn. 6, § 32. 5. The names of blasphemy, which were found before on the heads of the beast only, have now spread over its whole surface. As ridden and guided by the harlot, it is tenfold more blasphemous in its titles and assumptions than before. The heathen world had but its Divi in the Cæsars, as in other deified men of note: but Christendom has its “most Christian” and “most faithful” Kings, such as Louis XIV. and Philip II.; its “Defenders of the faith,” such as Charles II. and James II.; its society of unprincipled intriguers called after the sacred name of our Lord, and working Satan’s work “ad majorem Dei gloriam;” its “holy office” of the Inquisition, with its dens of darkest cruelty; finally its “patrimony of St. Peter,” and its “holy Roman Empire;” all of them, and many more, new names of blasphemy, with which the woman has invested the beast. Go where we will and look where we will in Papal Christendom, names of blasphemy meet us. The taverns, the shops, the titles of men and of places, the very insurance badges on the houses, are full of them), having seven heads and ten horns (as in its former appearance, ch. Revelation 13:1; inherited from the dragon, ch. Revelation 12:3. These are presently interpreted: we now return to the description of the woman herself). And the woman was clothed in purple (St. John’s own word, even to its peculiar form, see reff., for the mock-imperial robe placed on our Lord: and therefore bearing probably here the same signification; but not in mockery, as Bed(121), “fucus simulati regiminis:” for the empire is real) and scarlet (see above. This very colour is not without its significance: witness the Cardinals, at the same time the guiding council of the Church and princes of the State), [and] gilded with gold and with (the κεχρυσωμένη is zeugmatically carried on) precious stone and with pearls (this description needs no illustration for any who have witnessed, or even read of, the pomp of Papal Rome: which, found as it is every where, is concentrated in the city itself), holding a cup of gold in her hand full of abominations and of the impure things (the change of construction is remarkable: for such it must be accounted, and not, with Düsterd., the accus. governed by ἔχουσα. It seems to be made, not to avoid an accumulation of genitives, as Hengstb., but to mark a difference between the more abstract designation of the contents of the cup as βδελύγματα, and the specification of them in the concrete as τὰ ἀκάθαρτα κ. τ. λ.) of her fornication (this cup is best taken altogether symbolically, and not as the cup in the Mass, which, however degraded by her blasphemous fiction of transubstantiation, could hardly be called by this name, and moreover is not given, but denied by her to the nations of the earth. That she should have represented herself in her medals as holding forth this cup (with the remarkable inscription, “sedet super universam;” see Elliott, vol. iv. p. 30, plate), is a judicial coincidence rather than a direct fulfilment), and (having) upon her forehead a name written (as was customary with harlots: so Seneca, Controv. i. 2, in Wetst.: “Stetisti puella in lupanari:.… nomen tuum pependit a fronte: pretia stupri accepisti:” and Juv. Sat. vi. 123 of Messallina, “Tunc nuda papillis Constitit auratis, titulum mentita Lyciscæ”), Mystery (is this word part of the name, or not? On the whole it seems more probable that it is. For though no such word would in the nature of things be attached to her forehead as part of her designation, so neither would the description which follows βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, to which the word μυστήριον seems partly to refer. But whether part of the name or not, the meaning will be the same: viz. that the title following is to be taken in a spiritual and an enigmatical sense: compare ch. Revelation 1:20, and 2 Thessalonians 2:7), Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth (i. e. not only first and greatest of these, but herself the progenitress and origin of the rest. All spiritual fornication and corruption are owing to her, and to her example and teaching). And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (as the Seer contemplates the woman, he perceives that she is drunken: and from what is revealed to him, and from her symbolic colour of blood, he assigns the cause of that intoxication. Wetst. quotes Plin. H. N. xiv. 28, “quo facile intelligitur ebrius jam sanguine civium, et tanto magis eum sitiens”). And I wondered, when I saw her, with great wonder (what was the ground of the Seer’s astonishment? One doubtless might be assigned, which would at once account for any degree of such emotion. If this woman is the same as he before saw, who fled into the wilderness from the face of the dragon, “the faithful city become an harlot” (Isaiah 1:21), he might well wonder. And certainly there is much in favour of such a supposition. It has been taken up by some considerable expositors, such as Auberlen (Der Prophet Daniel, pp. 278 ff.), who has argued earnestly but soberly for it. There is one objection to it, which has been made more of in this place than perhaps it deserves. It is, that in the Angel’s replication to St. John’s wonder, no allusion is made to this circumstance as its principal ground. But, it may well be replied, this would be just what we might expect, if the fact of identity were patent. The Seer, versed in the history of man’s weakness and depravity, full of O. T. prophetic thoughts and sayings, would need no solution of the fact itself: this would lie at the ground of his wonder, and of the angel’s explanation of the consequences which were to follow from it. Auberlen very properly lays stress on the fact, that the joint symbolism of the wilderness and the woman could not fail to call up in the mind of the Seer the last occasion when the two occurred together: and insists that this symbol must be continuous throughout. Without going so far as to pronounce the two identical, I think we cannot and ought not to lose sight of the identity of symbolism in the two cases. It is surely meant to lie beneath the surface, and to teach us an instructive lesson. We may see from it two prophetic truths: first, that the church on earth in the main will become apostate and faithless, cf. Luke 18:8; and secondly, that while this shall be so, the apostasy shall not embrace the whole church, so that the second woman in the apocalyptic vision should be absolutely identical with the first. The identity is, in the main, not to be questioned: in formal strictness, not to be pressed. This being so, I should rather regard St. John’s astonishment as a compound feeling, occasioned partly by the enormity of the sight revealed to him, partly also by the identity of the symbolism with that which had been the vehicle of a former and altogether different vision).


Verses 7-18

7–18.] Explanation by the angel of the mystery of the woman and of the beast. And first, 7–14.] of the beast. And the angel said to me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell to thee the mystery (which, be it noted, is but one) of the woman and of the wild-beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast which thou sawest, was, and is not, and shall come up out of the abyss and goeth to perdition (these words have been a very battle-field for apocalyptic expositors, whose principal differing interpretations are far too long to be given at all intelligibly here, but will be seen best in their own works, and compendiously but fairly stated in the notices in Mr. Elliott’s fourth volume. What is here required, is that I should give a consistent account of that solution which I have been myself led to adopt. 1) It will not be supposed, with the general view which I have taken of the beast as the secular persecuting power, that I am prepared to accede to that line of interpretation which makes the whole vision merely descriptive of the Seer’s own time, and of the Roman emperors then past, present, and expected. Against such a view it seems to me the whole imagery and diction of the vision protest: and this it will be my endeavour to shew as each of their details comes under my notice. If, as universally acknowledged, our prophecy be a taking up and continuation of that of Daniel, then we are dealing with larger matters and on a wider scale than such a limited interpretation would imply. 2) Nor again, after the meaning assigned above to the harlot and her title, will it be expected that I should agree with those who take her as, according to the letter of our Revelation 17:18, strictly confined in meaning to the material city of Rome. She is that city: but she is also μυστήριον. She is herself a harlot, an apostate and faithless church; but she is also a mother: from her spring, of her nature partake, with her shall be destroyed, all the fornications and abominations of the earth, though they be not in Rome, though they be not called by her name, though in outward semblance they quarrel with and oppose her. 3) The above remarks will lead their intelligent reader to expect, that the present words of our text, which are in the main reproductive of the imagery of ch. Revelation 13:1-4, will be interpreted as those were interpreted, not of mere passing events and persons, but of world-wide and world-long empires and changes. 4) Having thus indicated the line of interpretation which I shall follow, I reserve the details for Revelation 17:10, where they necessarily come before us): and they shall wonder who dwell upon the earth, of whom the name is not written upon (the accus. as so often in this book) the book of life from the foundation of the world (these latter words, even in ordinary N. T. Greek, would belong to γέγραπται, and the art. τό would be wanted to connect them with τὸ βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς. But it is by no means certain, in the loose Greek of the Apocalypse, whether these accuracies must be insisted on. Judging by the analogy of ch. Revelation 13:8 (see note there), ἀπὸ κατ. κόσμου belongs to that which immediately precedes it: as indeed it does in every place where it occurs in which its connexion might be ambiguous. I prefer therefore to follow analogy, rather than to insist on philological accuracy in a book where its rules are manifestly not observed), seeing (the reader expects βλέποντες, to agree with οἱ κατοικοῦντες: but instead, we have βλεπόντων, agreeing with ὧν by attraction) the beast that he was and is not and shall come again (see for full explanation, below on Revelation 17:9-10). Here (is) the mind that hath wisdom (by these words, as in ch. Revelation 13:18, attention is bespoken, and spiritual discernment challenged, for that which follows). The seven heads are seven mountains, where (= ἐφʼ ὧν, on which) the woman sitteth (upon them) ( ἐπʼ αὐτῶν, the well-known Hebraistic redundancy of construction after ἐφʼ ὧν, here expressed by ὅπου.

By these words, no less plainly than by Revelation 17:18, Rome is pointed out. Propertius, iii. 11. 57, by a remarkable coincidence, unites both descriptions in one line: “Septem urbs alta jugis, toto quæ præsidet orbi.” The more remarkable out of the very many testimonies to Rome being thus known, are those of Horace, Carmen Seculare, 7, “Di quibus septem placuere colles:” Virg. Æn. vi. 782, “Illa inclyta Roma Imperium terris, animos æquabit Olympo, Septemque una sibi muro circumdabit arces:” where Servius annotates, “alii dicunt breves septem colliculos a Romulo inclusos, qui tamen aliis nominibus appellabantur: alii volunt hos ipsos qui nunc sunt a Romulo inclusos, hoc est Palatinum, Quirinalem, Aventinum, Cœlium, Viminalem, Æsquilinum, et Janicularem.” See also Georg. ii. 534: Cicero, ad Att. vi. 5, ἐξ ἄστεος ἑπταλόφου: Martial iv. 64, speaking of Julius Martial’s gardens on the Janiculum, “Hinc septem dominos videre montes, Et totam licet æstimare Romam:” Varro de L. L. iv., “Dies Septimontium nominatus ab his septem montibus in queis sita Roma est:”—and so Plutarch, Probl. Rom. p. 280 D, τὸ σεπτιμούντιον ἄγουσιν ἐπὶ τῷ τὸν ἕβδομον λόφον τῇ πόλει προσκατανεμηθῆναι, καὶ τὴν ῥώμην ἑπτάλοφον γενέσθαι. See very many more in Wetst., and a copious catena of citations in Bp. Wordsworth’s Letters to M. Gondon on the Church of Rome, Let. xi. Also the coin of Vespasian figured in Elliott, vol. iv. p. 30): and they are seven kings (let us weigh well the significance of this indication furnished by the angel. The seven heads have a reference to the woman, who sits upon the beast to whom they belong: and, as far as this reference is concerned, they are hills, on which she sits. But they have also another reference—to the beast, of which they are the heads: and as far as this other reference is concerned, they are kings. Not, be it noticed, kings over the woman, nor kings of the city symbolized by her: but kings in a totally different relation, viz. that to the beast, of which they are heads. So that to interpret these kings as emperors of Rome, or as successive forms of government over Rome, is to miss the propriety of the symbolism and to introduce utter confusion. They belong to the beast, which is not Rome, nor the Roman Empire, but a general symbol of secular antichristian power. They are in substance the same seven crowned heads which we saw on the dragon in ch. Revelation 12:3; the same which we saw, with names of blasphemy on them, on the beast of ch. Revelation 13:1, to whom the dragon gave his power and his throne). The five (i. e. the first five out of the seven) fell (Angl., “are fallen.” Of whom is this word used? Is it one likely to be chosen to describe the mere passing away of king after king in an empire more or less settled? One appropriate to Augustus and Tiberius, who died in their beds? Or again is it one which could well be predicated of the government by consuls, which had been absorbed into the imperial power, or of that by dictators, which had merely ceased ad tempus sumi, because it had become perpetual in the person of one man? Had Roman emperors been meant by the seven kings, or successive stages of government over Rome (even supposing these last made out, which they never have been), we should in vain have sought any precedent, or any appropriate meaning, for this ἔπεσαν: “have passed away” would be its constrained and unexampled sense. But let the analogy of Scripture and of this book itself guide us, and our way will be clear enough. ἔπεσεν is the cry over Babylon herself. πίπτω is used in the LXX constantly, and by Theod. in ref. Dan., of the violent fall, the overthrow, either of kings or of kingdoms: it is a word belonging to domination overthrown, to glory ruined, to empire superseded. If I understand these five of individual successive kings, if I understand them of forms of government adopted and laid down on occasion, I can give no account of this verb: but if I understand them of forms of empire, one after another heading the antichristian secular power, one after another violently overthrown and done away, I have this verb in its right place and appropriate sense. Egypt is fallen, the first head of the beast that persecuted God’s people, Ezekiel 29, 30; Nineveh is fallen, the bloody city, Nahum 3:1-19; Babylon is fallen, the great enemy of Israel, Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 50, 51, al.: Persia is fallen, Daniel 10:13; Daniel 11:2; Græcia is fallen, Daniel 11:3-4. Thus, and as it seems to me thus only, can we do justice to the expression. Nor is any force done thus to βασιλεῖς, but on the contrary it is kept to its strict prophetic import, and to the analogy of that portion of prophecy which is here especially in view. For in Daniel 7:17 we read these great beasts which are four are four kings, מַלְכין ; not βασιλεῖαι, as LXX and Theodotion), the one is (the Roman), the other (required to complete the seven) is not yet come (I agree with Auberlen, der Prophet Daniel, pp. 304 ff., in regarding this seventh as the Christian empire beginning with Constantine: during whose time the beast in his proper essence, in his fulness of opposition to God and His saints, ceases to be), and when he shall come he must remain a little time (certainly the impression we derive from these words is not as Düsterd., al., that his empire is to be of very short continuance, but the ὀλίγον, as in ref. 1 Pet., gives the idea of some space not assigned, but vaguely thus stated as “some little time.” The idea given is rather that of duration than of non-duration. Herodotus, iv. 81, says of the river Exampæus, τοῦ καὶ ὀλίγον τι πρότερον τούτων μνήμην εἶχον, but it was twenty-nine chapters back. See for the usage of this book itself, ch. Revelation 2:14, Revelation 3:4; not Revelation 12:12, where the context decides ὀλίγον to be emphatic. Here, the stress is on δεῖ μεῖναι, and not on ὀλίγον: on the fact of some endurance, not on its being but short). And the beast, which was and is not (as in Revelation 17:8, whose peculiar power and essence seem suspended while the empire is Christian by profession. But observe, the seventh is for all that a veritable head, and like the others carries names of blasphemy. The beast is not actually put out of existence, but has only received a deadly wound which is again healed, see ch. Revelation 13:3, notes), he himself (or, this) also is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth unto perdition (this eighth, the last and worst phase of the beast, is not represented as any one of his heads, but as being the beast himself in actual embodiment. He is ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά,—not, “one of the seven,” but, the successor and result of the seven, following and springing out of them. And he εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὑπάγει—does not fall like the others, but goes on and meets his own destruction at the hand of the Lord Himself. There can be little doubt in the mind of the student of prophecy, who is thus described: that it is the ultimate antichristian power, prefigured by the little horn in Daniel, and expressly announced by St. Paul, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ff., as ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας,—as ὁ ἄνομος, ὃν ὁ κύριος ἰησοῦς ἀνελεῖ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, καὶ καταργήσει τῇ ἐπιφανείᾳ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ). And the ten horns which thou sawest, are ten kings (not necessarily personal kings: see on Revelation 17:10 above: but kingdoms, regarded as summed up in their kings) which ( οἵτινες, kings of that kind who) have not yet received a kingdom, but receive power as kings (the ὡς βασιλεῖς is somewhat enigmatical. Auberlen suggests, whether the kingly power itself may not have passed away from these realms in the days of antichristian misrule, and thus their power be only ὡς βασιλεῖς. But this seems inconsistent with their being called βασιλεῖς. Rather I would say the ὡς represents the reservation of their kingly rights in their alliance with the beast) one hour (i. e. during the space of one hour: just as ἡμίωρον in ch. Revelation 8:1 is during the space of half an hour. Some, e. g. Vitringa and Elliott, have upheld the meaning, for μίαν ὤραν μετά, of “at one and the same time with.” From the use of ποίαν ὥραν in ch. Revelation 3:3, we might concede such usage to be within the bare limits of possibility; though even thus the μίαν μετά, for “one and the same with,” is a hard saying. But we are not to enquire in our exegesis, what may possibly be, but what probably is. And I venture to say that but for a preconceived opinion, no one would ever have thought of any other meaning for these words than the ordinary one, “for the space of one hour.” And thus accordingly we will take them, as signifying some definite space, unknown to us, thus designated: analogous in position to the ὀλίγον above) together with (i. e. in conjunction with, allied with: their power will be associated with his power) the beast (who are these? The answer seems to be furnished us in Daniel 7:23 ff. They are ten kingdoms which shall arise out of the fourth great kingdom there: ten European powers, which in the last time, in concert with and subjection to the antichristian power, shall make war against Christ. In the precise number and form here indicated, they have not yet arisen. It would not be difficult to point out the elements and already consolidating shapes of most of them: but in precise number we have them not as yet. What changes in Europe may bring them into the required tale and form, it is not for us to say). These have (the present is used in describing them, though they have not yet arisen) one mind (one and the same view and intent and consent), and give their might and their power to the beast (becoming his allies and moving at his beck). These shall war with the Lamb (in concert with the beast, ch. Revelation 19:19), and the Lamb shall conquer them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and they who are with Him ( νικήσουσιν αὐτούς also: the verb is implied in νικήσει above) called and chosen (all the called are not chosen, Matt. (Matthew 20:16,) Revelation 22:14; but all that are chosen are first called, 2 Peter 1:10) and faithful (this way of taking this clause is far better than with Bengel to make κλ. κ. ἐκλ. κ. πιστοί into predicate, “and they that are with him are called and chosen and faithful.” For 1) it can clearly be no co-ordinate reason with the other assigned for the Lamb’s victory, that His followers are, &c., and 2) the arrangement of the sentence seems against this view, seeing that in the former case the predicate is put forward, and in this we should have expected it also: καὶ κλ. κ. ἐκλεκτ. κ. πιστοὶ οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ).


Verses 15-18

15–18.] Explanation of various particulars regarding the harlot, and of the harlot herself. And he saith to me, The waters which thou sawest, where ( οὗ, like ὅπου in Revelation 17:9, = ἐφʼ ὧν) the harlot sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages (so in Isaiah 8:7, the king of Assyria and his invading people are compared to the waters of the river, strong and many. There is also doubtless an impious parody intended in the position of the harlot to that of Him who sitteth above the water-flood and remaineth King for ever, Psalms 29:10). And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast (viz. in that compact and alliance just now mentioned), these shall hate the harlot (we now enter upon prophetic particulars other than those revealed in the vision, where the harlot was sitting on the beast. Previous to these things coming to pass, she must be cast down from her proud position), and shall make her deserted and naked (contrast to Revelation 17:4. Her former lovers shall no longer frequent her nor answer to her call: her rich adornments shall be stripped off. She shall lose, at the hands of those whom she formerly seduced with her cup of fornication, both her spiritual power over them and her temporal power to adorn herself), and shall eat her flesh (batten upon her spoils; confiscate her possessions: or perhaps, as the same expression, Psalms 27:2; Micah 3:2 ff., where it is used to indicate the extreme vengeance of keen hostility. So Xen. Hell. iii. 3. 6, says of the hatred between the Helots, Periœci, &c., and the pure Spartans, ὅπου γὰρ ἐν τούτοις (the Helots, &c.) τις λόγος γένοιτο περὶ σπαρτιατῶν, οὐδένα δύνασθαι κρύπτειν τὸ μὴ οὐχ ἡδέως ἂν καὶ ὠμῶν ἐσθίειν αὐτῶν), and shall consume her with (or, in) fire (Düsterd. remarks that in the former clause the figure of a woman is kept: in this latter the thing signified, a city. But this need not absolutely be; the woman may be here also intended: and all the more probably, because the very words ἐν πυρὶ κατακαύσουσιν are quoted from the legal formula of the condemnation of those who had committed abominable fornications: cf. Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9. The burning of the city would be a signal fulfilment: but we cannot positively say that that, and nothing else, is intended). For God put it (reff.: the aor. is proleptic) into their hearts to do His mind, [and to make one mind ( ποιῆσαι is in the same sense each time—to put in practice: this they do in regard both to God’s mind and their own common mind, the two being the same. The identity is not asserted, which would require τὴν μίαν γνώμην αὐτῶν, but implied),] and to give their kingdom (i. e., as above, the authority of their respective kingdoms) to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled (the prophetic words or discourses,—not ῥήματα, but λόγοι,—respecting the destruction of Babylon). And the woman whom thou sawest, is the great city, which hath kingdom over the kings of the earth (every thing here is plain. The “septem urbs alta jugis toto quæ præsidet orbi,” Propert., can be but one, and that one ROME. The pres. part., ἡ ἔχουσα, points to the time when the words were uttered, and to the dominion then subsisting. It has already been seen, that the prophecy regards Rome pagan and papal, but, from the figure of an harlot and the very nature of the predictions themselves, more the latter than the former. I may observe in passing, that the view maintained recently by Düsterd., after many others, that the whole of these prophecies regard Pagan Rome only, receives no countenance from the words of this verse, which this school of Commentators are fond of appealing to as decisive for them. Rather may we say that this verse, taken in connexion with what has gone before, stultifies their view entirely. If the woman, as these Commentators insist, represents merely the stone-walls and houses of the city, what need is there for μυστήριον on her brow,—what appropriateness in the use of all the Scripture imagery, long familiar to God’s people, of spiritual fornication? And if this were so, where is the contest with the Lamb,—where the fulfilment of any the least portion of the prophecy? If we understand it thus, nothing is left for us but to say, as indeed some of this school are not afraid to say, that only the Seer’s wish dictated his words, and that history has not verified them. So that this view has one merit: it brings us at once face to face with the dilemma of accepting or rejecting the book: and thereby, for us, who accept it as the word of God, becomes impossible. For us, who believe the prophecy is to be fulfilled, what was Rome then, is Rome now. Her fornications and abominations, as well as her power and pride, are matter of history and of present fact: and we look for her destruction to come, as we believe it is rapidly coming, by the means and in the manner here foretold).

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/revelation-17.html. 1863-1878.

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