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Bible Commentaries

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Revelation 17



Other Authors

Questions For Revelation Chapter Seventeen

1. Who came to John?

2. What did he do?

3.What was he going to sho, him?

4.Where was she sitting?

5.Who had committed fornication with her?

6.How had inhabitants of the earth been affected? "{.To where was John carried?

8.Whom did he see?

9.On what was she sitting?

10.Of what was it full?

11.What other parts did it have?

12.How was she arrayed?

13.In what way was she decked?

14.What was in her hand?

15.What did it contain?

16.Of whom was she the mother?

17.State her name.

18.Where was that name written?

19.On what was the woman drnnk?

20.State the impression made on John.

21.Who then spoke to him?

22.Tell what he promised to do.

23.What times of existence did the beast have?

24.From where will it ascend?

25.Into what will it go?

26.What will this cause earth dwellers to do?

27.What portion of them will be thus affected?

28.Tell what they will behold.

29.What do the seven heads represent?

30.How many kings are represented?

31.What had happened to them?

32.Which one is to be short lived?

33.Tell whieh beast is the eighth.

34.What will become of it?

35.Tell what the ten horns stood for.

36.What had not yet come to them?

37.What had come to them?

38.Were they in agreement with each other?

39. What do they give to the beast?

40. With whom shall they make war?

41. Which will be victor?

42. State the titles of the Lamb?

43.What are his associates called?

44.Tell what the waters represent.

45.What will the ten horns hate?

46.How will they make her to be?

47.What will be done with her flesh?

48."fhen what will be done with her?

49.In so doing whose will is accomplished?

50.How long will they have this power?

51. What does the woman represent?

Verse 1

This chapter (like some others) goes back to the time just before the Reformation, and will make symbolic predictions of that revolution. It should be stated that while the institution of church and state (which has not yet been dissolved as to the start of this chapter), is regarded as Babylon the Great and an enemy of God, the church part of the combination will seem to receive the more attention from the Lord in his condemnations. That is because it deals with the affairs of the soul which are more important than those of the secular government. Yet because the apostate church was supported by the political power of Rome and her Empire, much of the language in the symbols will be based upon the geographical and political features of that city. Show unto thee the judgment or give John a prediction of God"s judgments in a vision. The great whore is said of the apostate church because false religions of all kinds are likened to immorality in figurative language. Sitteth upon many waters. Waters in symbolic language means people upon whom the corrupt institution pressed down with her desolating weight of intolerance and persecution.


Verse 2

The kings of the earth means the rulers over the various divisions of the political empire, such as the ones named at Revelation 13:1-18 :. In their devotion to the spiritual harlot they were guilty of fornication. The inhabitants of the earth refers to the subjects under these kings who submitted to their adulterous ruling, Wine of her fornication. In literal practice we find "wine and women" often associated, hence they are so considered in the symbolic vision that John saw.

Verse 3

Carried me away in the spirit is signifi Song of Solomon , and reminds us again of the truth that John never did leave the isle of Patmos literally while in the vision of this book. It was a part of the symbolical vision to be taken away into the wilderness and see the things that shall be described. The woman is the apostate church of Rome symbolized by the city of Rome because the church rested on the government of that city for support. The literal reason for using a beast in the symbol that was scarlet, was the fact that scarlet was one of the royal colors of the Empire. Seven heads and ten horns is explained at Revelation 13:1, and it will appear in this chapter with a slight variation in the application.

Verse 4

Since the state color of the beast (Rome) was scarlet and purple, it was appropriate that the rider of the beast should be robed to match. It is literally true that the clergy of the church of Rome wear these colors in their church ceremonies. It is also appropriate that such colors be used in the symbols of that church, in view of the faithful people of God who had their blood taken from them in the persecution at the hands of that wicked institution. Being decked with precious stones and pearls also was appropriate because the church of Rome possesses and uses great wealth in her ceremonies. The symbolic cup represents the corrupt practices that the church of Rome forced upon her subjects. It is symbolized in the form of a person filling a cup with vile and abominable materials then forcing some helpless person to drink it.

Verse 5

The name that John saw written on the forehead of this woman was put there by the Lord to designate to the apostate her true character, not that she had taken to herself such an inscription. In truth the leaders of the church of Rome of today deny that this applies to their "holy mother church." Mystery is a part of her characteristics; Thayer's definition of the word at this place Isaiah , "The mystic or hidden sense." The apostate church has always thrived most when she could keep her people in ignorance of what was going on. Babylon the great. There are many ways in which anything can be great both good and bad. Babylon was great in a bad sense and that is because she was the most extensive and powerful influence for evil that Satan ever devised. Mother of harlots. A bad woman can be the mother of pure daughters and they would not need to participate in the wickedness of their mother; but this woman's daughters also are. harlota. Of course as we have previously learned, harlotry in figurative language means any false religion or unscriptural organization. The conclsion is that the religious denominations in the world are the harlot daughters of Rome, because they obtained the principal tenets that make up their creeds from the doctrines put out by that apostate church. Abominations of the earth is a general summing up of the evil doctrines and practices of the church of Rome throughout the world.

Verse 6

Saints and martyrs refer to the same people although the words have a different (but not conflicting) meaning. Saint means a holy or righteous person which applies to all Christians. Martyr means witness and all Christians are martyrs because they are faithful to the testimony of the Gospel regardless of what may be the result. The fact that both saints and martyrs had shed their blood in defence of the testimony of Jesus, shows the latter word is not applied to some on the simple ground that they died for Christ. Saw the woman drunken. To be drunk literally requires that a person be under the influence of alcohol. The term has come to be used figuratively, as when it is said that a man is "drunk with a craze for money; or for pleasure." Rome had shed so much blood of righteous people she is said to be drunk with the desire to slay the Christians. Wondered with great admiration. The last word usually has the sense of approval, but it is not restricted to that meaning. The phrase means the vision John saw was so unusual and vast that he could only gaze at it.

Verse 7

Wherefore didst thou marvel? This question indicates that the amazed expression on the face of John was mixed with that of being puzzled over the whole phenomenon. The angel promises to explain to him all about the mystery involving the woman, the beast and the seven heads and ten horns that the beast had. The passage deviates from the usual manner of the book. When the symbols are described we are generally left to figure out (by the help of history) what the interpretation is. This time the angel will tell to what institutions and persons the symbols refer. Not that he will specify the personal items of application, but he will describe it so that a student of the Bible and history should have no uncertainty about it

Verse 8

Was and is not refers to Pagan Rome which ceased to be such an institution (on the surface) after the time of Constantine. Ascend out of the bottomless pit. The last two words mean that part of the intermediate state where evil men and angels are kept until the judgment day. It is the place where the wicked rich man went as recorded in Luke 16:23 where the word is "hell" but comes from a different Greek term. Since the members of Pagan Rome were wicked it was necessary to show them as ascending from this pit. But we should take notice that the vision leaps across all the intervening years for the moment to predict the final destiny of those members of the beast that had been in the bottomless pit. After the intermediate state is no longer needed, these wicked persons will ascend out of that pit and go into perdition, which means they will be cast into the lake of fire. Having shown a brief picture of the fate of this beast, the vision at once resumes the events and appearances that are to take place before the final day of perdition. The vision is so unusual that the uninformed shall wonder at it. That is the same word used in verse6 which was seen to mean that one is puzzled with amazement, and it would have that meaning especially with the uninformed. By that word I mean the ones described by John as those whose names are not written in the book of life. Revelation 13:8 shows this italicized statement means those who are not faithful servants of Christ. Their names (of the faithful) are said to have been written in the book from the foundation of the world or before the human family had become an orderly group of human beings. The beast that was and is not and yet is was that which caused the astonishment spoken of above. The beast was Pagan Rome outwardly until the time of Constantine, who caused the union of church and state to take place. That put an end to Pagan Rome as far as outward profession was concerned, and it is in that sense that John says the beast is not. But in reality Papal Rome retained so much of the doctrines and wicked practices of the original empire, that it could truly be said of Papal Rome that it was Pagan Rome in disguise or in another form. It is in that sense that John says the institution yet is. which caused the uninformed of the World to be amazed and puzzled. But the righteous did not have to be in such a state of mind because they had always been respectful hearers of what inspired men had said. For instance, if they had only read and considered what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, they would have expected such revolutions to take place as these affairs of Rome.

Verse 9

The seven mountains have no special significance except as an item of geography and history by which to identify the city of Rome. On which the woman sitteth means that the apostate church rested upon the government of Rome for support.

Verse 10

In some previous verses and in verse12below the text plainly says the ten horns represent ten kings or kingdoms that were inferior units of the Roman Empire. Hence the seven kings of this verse must have another meaning, and I believe they refer to important men who were leaders in the affairs of state right in the capital city. It is merely a coincidence that the Lord had seven of those prominent men in mind which is also the number of the geographical hills or "mountains" that comprised the city of Rome. It is clearly shown in Roman history that leading men in the Empire often vied with each other for power and the vision shows such a conflict.

Verse 11

The beast that was has been already shown to be Pagan Rome. The apostle says this beast is the eighth; not merely one more beast that would count up to eight, but it was the eighth and of the seven. This denotes that it was in the same line, or bore some fact in common with the others. And the phrase goeth into perdition strengthens that conclusion, for we learned in verse8 that it was Pagan Rome that was to go into perdition. (Not that Papal Rome will escape perdition, but that is not under consideration at present.) The vision means that Pagan Rome as a whole must take her place in the count with all those individual "kings" or chief men in the corrupt institution, and all go down as a unit into the lake of perdition.

Verse 12

These ten kings (or small kingdoms) are named at Revelation 13:1. It says they had received no kingdom as yet. The meaning is they were not in rightful control of their kingdoms although they were acting as kings. But the phrase also indicates that they will finally be kings in their own right after Papal Rome has been put down even as Pagan Rome was, then each nation will have its own chosen form of government. But for the time being they may only act as kings. One hour with the beast is a figure of speech meaning that the time for continued oppression of Rome was to be comparatively short. The reader should bear in mind that the vision goes from the days of Pagan Rome in verse11to those of Papal Rome in the present verse. On that basis the beast now is Papal Rome in conjunction with the state.

Verse 13

These means the ten kings of the preceding verse and until they have had their eyes opened by receiving the Bible back again, they will not know any better than to give their power and strength unto the beast (church-and state).

Verse 14

These again means the ten kings just mentioned. While they were still under the control of Papal Rome and blinded by the false doctrines of that corrupt beast, they were opposed to the Lamb of God and made (religious) war with Him. The Lamb shall overcome them. This will be accomplished by the Reformation, for that movement will give the Bible back to the people in their native tongue. When that is done the Lamb shall overcome them which means He will subdue their opposition to the word of God and to the true church that is regulated by that word. Lord of lords puts Christ above all other rulers, and King of kings means He is greater than the ten kings who fought against Him. Christ does not conduct the conflict directly but does it by His great army. The army is composed of those who are called (by the Gospel), and they are chosen because they have qualified themselves by being faithful.

Verse 15

The angel now begins to give John the interpretation of the vision as was mentioned at verse7. The first verse says the corrupt woman sits upon many waters, and this verse explains it to mean peoples and nations, etc. That is because the Roman Empire was one of the "four world empires" which contained all the Song of Solomon -called civilized people of the earth.

Verse 16

The ten horns are the kings or kingdoms which are named in the comments at Revelation 18:1. Shall hate the whore is literal, for when the kings and people of the smaller units of the Empire come to realize how deeply they have been deceived by her they can have no other feeling toward her. The rest of the verse is a symbolical vision of the resistance that will be put up by these ten kings and their people when they "get their eyes open."

Verse 17

God hath put in their hearts. God never directly causes any person to do wrong who wants to do right. But when a man or group of men shows a persistence toward wrong, then He gives them up to carry out their own ways until they have learned their lesson. (See the comments at 2 Thessalonians 2:11.) It had been predicted (in such passages as that just cited) that such conduct would be practiced by these kings, hence in doing so they were carrying out the divine prediction. But they will be suffered to operate in that way only untilthe words of God shall be fulfilled. This means until the time for them to be enlightend by the work of the Reformation.

Verse 18

Since the Reformation has not occurred yet, at the point of the great drama applying to this verse, the woman and great city refers to Babylon as the union of church and state.


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

Bibliography Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

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