And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials - See the notes on Revelation 15:1, Revelation 15:7. Reference is again made to these angels in the same manner in Revelation 21:9, where one of them says that he would show to John "the bride, the Lamb's wife." No particular one is specified. The general idea seems to be, that to those seven angels was entrusted the execution of the last things, or the winding up of affairs introductory to the reign of God, and that the communications respecting those last events were properly made through them. It is clearly quite immaterial by which of these it is done. The expression "which had the seven vials," would seem to imply that though they had emptied the vials in the manner stated in the previous chapter, they still retained them in their hands.
And talked with me - Spake to me. The word "talk" would imply a more protracted conversation than occurred here.
Come hither - Greek, δεῦρο deuro - "Here, hither." This is a word merely calling the attention, as we should say now, "Here." It does not imply that John was to leave the place where he was.
I will shew unto thee - Partly by symbols, and partly by express statements; for this is the way in which, in fact, he showed him.
The judgment - The condemnation and calamity that will come upon her.
Of the great whore - It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent a city under the image of a woman - a pure and holy city under the image of a virgin or chaste female; a corrupt, idolatrous, and wicked city under the image of an abandoned or lewd woman. See the notes on Isaiah 1:21; "How is the faithful city become an harlot!" Compare the notes on Isaiah 1:8. In Revelation 17:18, it is expressly said that "this woman is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" - that is, as I suppose, papal Rome; and the design here is to represent it as resembling an abandoned female - fit representative of an apostate, corrupt, unfaithful church. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:21.
That sitteth upon many waters - An image drawn either from Babylon, situated on the Euphrates, and encompassed by the many artificial rivers which had been made to irrigate the country, or Rome, situated on the Tiber. In Revelation 17:15 these waters are said to represent the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues over which the government symbolized by the woman ruled. See the notes on that verse. Waters are often used to symbolize nations.
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.
With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication - Spiritual adultery. The meaning is, that papal Rome, unfaithful to God, and idolatrous and corrupt, had seduced the rulers of the earth, and led them into the same kind of unfaithfulness, idolatry, and corruption. Compare Jeremiah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 4:2. How true this is in history need not be stated. All the princes and kings of Europe in the dark ages, and for many centuries were, and not a few of them are now, entirely under the influence of papal Rome.
And the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication - The alluring cup which, as an harlot, she had extended to them. See this image explained in the notes on Revelation 14:8. There it is said that Babylon - referring to the same thing - had "made them drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication"; that is, of the cup that led to wrath or punishment. Here it is said that the harlot had made them "drunk with the wine of her fornication"; that is, they had been, as it were, intoxicated by the alluring cup held out to them. What could better describe the influence of Rome on the people of the world, in making them, under these delusions, incapable of sober judgment, and in completely fascinating and controlling all their powers?
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.
So he carried me away in the spirit - In vision. He seemed to himself to be thus carried away; or the scene which he is about to describe was made to pass before him as if he were present.
Into the wilderness - Into a desert. Compare the notes on Revelation 12:6. Why this scene is laid in a wilderness or desert is not mentioned. Prof. Stuart supposes that it is because it is "appropriate to symbolize the future condition of the beast." So DeWette and Rosenmuller. The imagery is changed somewhat from the first appearance of the harlot in Revelation 17:1. There she is represented as "sitting upon many waters." Now she is represented as "riding on a beast," and of course the imagery is adapted to that. Possibly there may have been no intentional significancy in this; but on the supposition, as the interpretation has led us to believe all along, that this refers to papal Rome, may not the propriety of this be seen in the condition of Rome and the adjacent country, at the rise of the papal power? That had its rise (see the notes on Daniel 7:25 ff) after the decline of the Roman civil power, and properly in the time of Clovis, Pepin, or Charlemagne. Perhaps its first visible appearance, as a power that was to influence the destiny of the world, was in the time of Gregory the Great, 590-605 a.d. On the supposition that the passage before us refers to the period when the papal power became thus marked and defined, the state of Rome at this time, as described by Mr. Gibbon, would show with what propriety the term "wilderness" or "desert" might be then applied to it.
The following extract from this author, in describing the state of Rome at the accession of Gregory the Great, has almost the appearance of being a designed commentary on this passage, or is, at anyrate, such as a partial interpreter of this book would desire and expect to find. Speaking of that period, he says (Decline and Fall, 3:207-211): "Rome had reached, about the close of the sixth century, the lowest period of her depression. By the removal of the seat of empire, and the successive loss of the provinces, the sources of public and private opulence were exhausted; the lofty tree under whose shade the nations of the earth had reposed was deprived of its leaves and branches, and the sapless trunk was left to wither on the ground. The ministers of command and the messengers of victory no longer met on the Appian or Flaminian Way; and the hostile approach of the Lombards was often felt and continually feared. The inhabitants of a potent and peaceful capital, who visit without an anxious thought the garden of the adjacent country, will faintly picture in their fancy the distress of the Romans; they shut or opened their gates with a trembling hand, beheld from the walls the flames of their houses, and heard the lamentations of their brethren who were coupled together like dogs, and dragged away into distant slavery beyond the sea and the mountains.
Such incessant alarms must annihilate the pleasures, and interrupt the labors of a rural life; and the Campagna of Rome was speedily reduced to the stale of a dreary wilderness, in which the land is barren, the waters are impure, and the air is infectious. Curiosity and ambition no longer attracted the nations to the capital of the world; but if chance or necessity directed the steps of a wandering stranger, he contemplated with horror the vacancy and solitude of the city; and might be tempted to ask, Where is the Senate, and where are the people? In a season of excessive rains, the Tiber swelled above its banks, and rushed with irresistible violence into the valleys of the seven hills. A pestilential disease arose from the stagnation of the deluge, and so rapid was the contagion that fourscore persons expired in an hour in the midst of a solemn procession which implored the mercy of Heaven. A society in which marriage is encouraged, and industry prevails, soon repairs the accidental losses of pestilence and war; but as the far greater part of the Romans was condemned to hopeless indigence and celibacy, the depopulation was constant and visible, and the gloomy enthusiasts might expect the approaching failure of the human race. Yet the number of citizens still exceeded the measure of subsistence; their precarious food was supplied from the harvests of Sicily or Egypt; and the frequent repetition of famine betrays the inattention of the emperor to a distant province. The edifices of Rome were exposed to the same ruin and decay; the mouldering fabrics were easily overthrown by inundations, tempests, and earthquakes; and the monks who had occupied the most advantageous stations exulted in their base triumph over the ruins of antiquity.
"Like Thebes, or Babylon, or Carthage, the name of Rome might have been erased from the earth, if the city had not been animated by a vital principle which again restored her to honor and dominion. The power as well as the virtue of the apostles resided with living energy in the breast of their successors; and the chair of Peter, under the reign of Maurice, was occupied by the first and greatest of the name of Gregory. The sword of the enemy was suspended over Rome; it was averted by the mild eloquence and seasonable gifts of the pontiff, who commanded the respect of heretics and barbarians." Compare Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12-15. On the supposition, now, that the inspired author of the Apocalypse had Rome, in that state when the civil power declined and the papacy arose, in his eye, what more expressive imagery could he have used to denote it than he has employed? On the supposition - if such a supposition could be made - that Mr. Gibbon meant to furnish a commentary on this passage, what more appropriate language could he have used? Does not this language look as if the author of the Apocalypse and the author of the Decline and Fall meant to play into each other's hands?
And, in further confirmation of this, I may refer to the testimony of two Roman Catholic writers, giving the same view of Rome and showing that, in their apprehension also, it was only by the reviving influence of the papacy that Rome was saved from becoming a total waste. They are both of the middle ages. The first is Augustine Steuchus, who thus writes: "The empire having been overthrown, unless God had raised up the "pontificate," Rome, resuscitated and restored by none, would have become uninhabitable, and been a most foul habitation thenceforward of cattle. But in the pontificate it revived as with a second birth; its empire in magnitude not indeed equal to the old empire, but its form not very dissimilar: because all nations, from East and from West, venerate the pope, not otherwise than they before obeyed the emperor." The other is Flavio Blondas: "The princes of the world now adore and worship as perpetual dictator the successor not of Caesar but of the fisherman Peter; that is, the supreme pontiff, the substitute of the aforesaid emperor." See the original in Elliott, 3:113.
And I saw a woman - Evidently the same which is referred to in Revelation 17:1.
Sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast - That is, either the beast was itself naturally of this color, or it was covered with trappings of this color. The word "scarlet" properly denotes a bright red color - brighter than crimson, which is a red color tinged with blue. See the notes on Isaiah 1:18. The word used here - κόκκινον kokkinon - occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Matthew 27:28; Hebrews 9:19; Revelation 17:3-4; Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16 - in all which places it is rendered "scarlet." See the Matthew 27:28 note and Hebrews 9:19 note. The color was obtained from a small insect which was found adhering to the shoots of a species of oak in Spain and Western Asia. This was the usual color in the robes of princes, military cloaks, etc. It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because this is a favorite color there. Thus it is used in Revelation 12:3, where the same power is represented under the image of a "red dragon."
See the notes on that passage. It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favorite color at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion. Those who are familiar with the descriptions given of papal Rome by travelers, and those who have passed much time in Rome, will see at once the propriety of this description, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to the papacy. I caused this inquiry to be made of an intelligent gentleman who had passed much time in Rome - without his knowing my design what would strike a stranger on visiting Rome, or what would be likely particularly to arrest his attention as remarkable there; and he unhesitatingly replied, "The scarlet color." This is the color of the dress of the cardinals - their hats, and cloaks, and stockings being always of this color.
It is the color of the carriages of the cardinals, the entire body of the carriage being scarlet, and the trappings of the horses the same. On occasion of public festivals and processions, scarlet is suspended from the windows of the houses along which processions pass. The inner color of the cloak of the pope is scarlet; his carriage is scarlet; the carpet on which he treads is scarlet. A large part of the dress of the body-guard of the pope is scarlet; and no one can take up a picture of Rome without seeing that this color is predominant. I looked through a volume of engravings representing the principal officers and public persons of Rome. There were few in which the scarlet color was not found as constituting some part of their apparel; in not a few the scarlet color prevailed almost entirely. And in illustration of the same thought, I introduce here an extract from a foreign newspaper, copied into an American newspaper of Feb. 22, 1851, as an illustration of the fact that the scarlet color is characteristic of Rome, and of the readiness with which it is referred to in that respect: "Curious Costumes - The three new cardinals, the archbishops of Thoulouse, Rheims, and Besancon, were presented to the president of the French Republic by the Pope's nuncio. They wore red caps, red stockings, black Roman coats lined and bound with red, and small cloaks." I conclude, therefore, that if it be admitted that it was intended to represent papal Rome in the vision, the precise description would have been adopted which is found here.
Full of names of blasphemy - All covered over with blasphemous titles and names. What could more accurately describe papal Rome than this? Compare for some of these names and titles the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; and notes on Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:5.
Having seven heads and ten horns - See the notes on Revelation 13:1.
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:
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour - On the nature of the scarlet color, see the notes on Revelation 17:3. The purple color - πορφύρα porphura - was obtained from a species of shellfish found on the coasts of the Mediterranean, which yielded a reddish-purple dye, much prized by the ancients. Robes dyed in that color were commonly worn by persons of rank and wealth, Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20; Luke 16:19. The purple color contains more blue than the crimson, though the limits are not very accurately defined, and the words are sometimes interchanged. Thus the mock robe put on the Saviour is called in Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20, πορφύραν porphuran - "purple," and in Matthew 27:28, κοκκίνην kokkinēn - "crimson." On the applicability of this to the papacy, see the notes on Revelation 17:3.
And decked with gold - After the manner of an harlot, with rich jewelry.
And precious stones - Sparkling diamonds, etc.
Having a golden cup in her hand - As if to entice lovers. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
Full of abominations - Of abominable things; of things suited to excite abhorrence and disgust; things unlawful and forbidden. The word, in the Scriptures, is commonly used to denote the impurities and abominations of idolatry. See the notes on Daniel 9:27. The meaning here is, that it seemed to be a cup filled with wine, but it was in fact a cup full of all abominable drugs, leading to all kinds of corruption. How much in accordance this is with the fascinations of the papacy, it is not necessary now to say, after the ample illustrations of the same thing already furnished in these notes.
And filthiness of her fornication - The image here is that of papal Rome, represented as an abandoned woman in gorgeous attire, alluring by her arts the nations of the earth, and seducing them into all kinds of pollution and abomination. It is a most remarkable fact that the papacy, as if designing to furnish a fulfillment of this prophecy, has chosen to represent itself almost precisely in this manner - as a female extending an alluring cup to passers by - as will be seen by the engraving on this page. Far as the design of striking this medal may have been from confirming this portion of the Book of Revelation, yet no one can fail to see that if this had been the design, no more happy illustration could have been adopted. Apostate churches, and guilty nations, often furnish the very proofs necessary to confirm the truth of the Scriptures.
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
And upon her forehead - In a circlet around her forehead. That is, it was made prominent and public, as if written on the forehead in blazing capitals. In Revelation 13:1 it is said that "the name of blasphemy" was written on the "heads" of the beast. The meaning in both places is substantially the same, that it was prominent, and unmistakable. See the notes on that verse. Compare the note on Revelation 14:1.
Was a name written - A title, or something that would properly indicate her character.
Mystery - It is proper to remark that there is nothing in the original as written by John, so far as now known, that corresponded with what is implied in placing this inscription in capital letters; and the same remark may be made of the "title" or inscription that was placed over the head of the Saviour on the cross, Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19. Our translators have adopted this form, apparently for the sole purpose of denoting that it was an inscription or title. On the meaning of the word "mystery," see the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:7. Compare the notes on 1 Timothy 3:16. Here it seems to be used to denote that there was something hidden, obscure, or enigmatical, under the title adopted; that is, the word "Babylon," and the word "mother," were symbolical. Our translators have printed and pointed the word "mystery" as if it were part of the inscription. It would probably be better to regard it as referring to the inscription, thus: "a name was written - a mysterious name, to wit, Babylon," etc. Or, "a name was written mysteriously." According to this, it would mean, not that there was any wonderful "mystery" about the thing itself, whatever might be true on that point, but that the name was enigmatical or symbolical; or that there was something hidden or concealed under the name. It was not to be literally understood.
Babylon the great - papal Rome, the nominal head of the Christian world, as Babylon had been of the pagan world. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
The mother of harlots -
(a) Of that spiritual apostasy from God which, in the language of the prophets, might be called adultery. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.
(b) The promoter of lewdness by her institutions. See the notes on Revelation 9:21. In both these senses, there never was a more expressive or appropriate title than the one here employed.
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.
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints - A reeling, intoxicated harlot, for that is the image which is kept up all along. In regard to the phrase "drunken with blood," compare Jeremiah 46:10. "The phraseology is derived from the barbarous custom (still extant among many pagan nations) of drinking the blood of the enemies slain in the way of revenge. The effect of drinking blood is said to be to exasperate, and to intoxicate with passion and a desire of revenge" (Prof. Stuart, in loco). The meaning here is, that the persecuting power referred to had shed the blood of the saints; and that, in its fury, it had, as it were, drunk the blood of the slain, and had become, by drinking that blood, intoxicated and infuriated. No one need say how applicable this has been to the papacy. Compare, however, the Daniel 7:21, Daniel 7:25 notes; Revelation 12:13-14; Revelation 13:15 notes.
And with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus - Especially with their blood. The meaning is, that the warfare, in which so much blood was shed, was directed against the saints as such, and that, in fact, it terminated particularly on those who, amidst cruel sufferings, were faithful witnesses for the Lord Jesus, and deserved to be called, by way of eminence, "martyrs." Compare the notes on Revelation 2:13; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 11:5, Revelation 11:7. How applicable this is to the papacy, let the blood shed in the valleys of Piedmont; the blood shed in the Low Countries by the Duke of Alva; the blood shed on Bartholomew's day; and the blood shed in the Inquisition, testify.
And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration - I was astonished at her appearance, at her apparel, and at the things which were so significantly symbolized by her.
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? - He was doubtless struck with the appearance of John as he stood fixed in astonishment. The question asked him, "why" he wondered, was designed to show him that the cause of his surprise would be removed or lessened, for that he would proceed so to explain this that he might have a correct view of its design.
I will tell thee the mystery of the woman - On the word "mystery," see the notes on Revelation 17:5. The sense is, "I will explain what is meant by the symbol - the hidden meaning that is couched under it." That is, he would so far explain it that a just view might be obtained of its signification. The explanation follows, Revelation 17:8-18.
And of the beast that carrieth her, ... - Revelation 17:3.
The beast that thou 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 was, and is not - In the close of the verse it is added, "and yet is" - "the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." There are three things affirmed here: first, that there is a sense in which it might be said of the power here referred to, that it "was," or that, before this, it had an existence; second, that there was a sense in which it might be said that it is "not," that is, that it had become practically extinct; and third, that there is a sense in which that power would be so revived that it might be said that it "still is." The "beast" here referred to is the same that is mentioned in Revelation 17:3, and in Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:3,Revelation 13:11-16. That is, there was one great formidable power, having essentially the same origin, though manifested under somewhat different modifications, to one and all of which might, in their different manifestations, be given the same name, "the beast."
And shall ascend out of the bottomless pit - ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου ek tēs abussou. On the meaning of the word here used, see the notes on Revelation 9:1. The meaning here is, that this power would seem to come up from the nether world. It would appear at one time to be extinct, but would revive again as if coming from the world over which Satan presides, and would, in its revived character, be such as might be expected from such an origin.
And go into perdition - That is, its end will be destruction. It will not be permanent, but will be overthrown and destroyed. The word perdition here is properly rendered by Prof. Stuart "destruction," but nothing is indicated by the word of the "nature" of the destruction that would come upon it.
And they that dwell on the earth - The inhabitants of the earth generally; that is, the matter referred to will be so remarkable as to attract general attention.
Shall wonder - It will be so contrary to the regular course of events, so difficult of explanation, so remarkable in itself, as to excite attention and surprise.
Whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world - See this explained in the notes on Revelation 13:8. The idea seems to be, that those whose names are written in the book of life, or who are truly the friends of God, would not be drawn off in admiration of the beast, or in rendering homage to it.
When they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is - That is, the power that once was mighty; that had declined to such a state that it became, as it were, extinct; and that was revived again with so much of its original strength, that it might be said that it still exists. The fact of its being revived in this manner, as well as the nature of the power itself, seemed suited to excite this admiration.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom - Here is what requires wisdom to interpret it; or, here is a case in which the mind that shows itself able to explain it will evince true sagacity. So in Revelation 13:18. See the notes on that place. Prof. Stuart renders this, "Here is a meaning which compriseth wisdom." It is undoubtedly implied that the symbol might be understood - whether in the time of John, or afterward, he does not say; but it was a matter which could not be determined by ordinary minds, or without an earnest application of the understanding.
The seven heads are seven mountains - Referring, undoubtedly, to Rome - the seven-hilled city - Septicollis Roma. See the notes on Revelation 12:3. (d).
On which the woman sitteth - The city represented as a woman, in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See the notes on Isaiah 1:8.
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 - That is, seven in all, as they are enumerated in this verse and the next. An eighth is mentioned in Revelation 17:11, but it is, at the same time, said that this one so pertains to the seven, or is so properly in one sense of the number seven, though, in another sense, to be regarded as an eighth, that it may be properly reckoned as the seventh. The word "kings" - βασιλεῖς basileis - may be understood, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned:
(a) literally, as denoting a king, or one who exercises royal authority;
(c) in a still larger sense, as denoting a dynasty, a form of government, a mode of administration, as what, in fact, "rules."
See the notes on Daniel 7:24, where the word "king" undoubtedly denotes a "dynasty," or "form of rule." The notion of ruling, or of authority, is undoubtedly in the word, for the verb βασιλεύω basileuō means "to rule," but the word may be applied to anything in which sovereignty resides. Thus it is applied to a king's son, to a military commander, to the gods, to a Greek archon, etc. See Passow. It would be contrary to the whole spirit of this passage, and to what is demanded by the proper meaning of the word, to insist that the word should denote literally kings, and that it could not be applied to emperors, or to dictators, or to dynasties.
Five are fallen - Have passed away as if fallen; that is, they have disappeared. The language would be applicable to rulers who have died, or who had been dethroned; or to dynasties or forms of government that had ceased to be. In the fulfillment of this, it would be necessary to find five such successive kings or rulers who had died, and who pertained to one sovereignty or nation; or five such dynasties or forms of administrations that had successively existed, but which had ceased.
And one is - That is, there is one - a sixth - that now reigns. The proper interpretation of this would be, that this existed in the time of the writer; that is, according to the view taken of the time of the writing of the Apocalypse (see Intro., section 2), at the close of the first century.
And the other is not yet come - The sixth one is to be succeeded by another in the same line, or occupying the same dominion.
And when he cometh - When that form of dominion is set up. No intimation is yet given as to the time when this would occur.
He must continue a short space - ὀλίγον oligon. A short time; his dominion will be of short duration. It is observable that this characteristic is stated as applicable only to this one of the seven; and the fair meaning would seem to be, that the time would be short as compared with the six that preceded, and as compared with the one that followed - the eighth - into which it was to be merged, 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.
And the beast that was, and is not - That is, the one power that was formerly mighty; that died away so that it might be said to be extinct; and yet Revelation 17:8 that "still is," or has a prolonged existence. It is evident that, by the "beast" here, there is some one power, dominion, empire, or rule, whose essential identity is preserved through all these changes, and to which it is proper to give the same name. It finds its termination, or its last form, in what is here called the "eighth"; a power which, it is observed, sustains such a special relation to the seven, that it may be said to be "of the seven," or to be a mere prolongation of the same sovereignty.
Even he is the eighth - The eighth in the succession. This form of sovereignty, though a mere prolongation of the former government, so much so as to be, in fact, but keeping up the same empire in the world, appears in such a novelty of form, that, in one sense, it deserves to be called the eighth in order, and yet is so essentially a mere concentration and continuance of the one power, that, in the general reckoning Revelation 17:10, it might be regarded as pertaining to the former. There was a sense in which it was proper to speak of it as the eighth power; and yet, viewed in its relation to the whole, it so essentially combined and concentrated all that there was in the seven, that, in a general view, it scarcely merited a separate mention. We should look for the fulfillment of this in some such concentration and embodiment of all that it was, in the previous forms of sovereignty referred to, that it perhaps would deserve mention as an eighth power, but that it was, nevertheless, such a mere prolongation of the previous forms of the one power, that it might be said to be "of the seven"; so that, in this view, it would not claim a separate consideration. This seems to be the fair meaning, though there is much that is enigmatical in the form of the expression.
And goeth into perdition - See the notes on Revelation 17:8.
In inquiring now into the application of this very difficult passage, it may be proper to suggest some of the principal opinions which have been held, and then to endeavor to ascertain the true meaning:
I. The principal opinions which have been held may be reduced to the following:
(1) That the seven kings here refer to the succession of Roman emperors, yet with some variation as to the manner of reckoning. Prof. Stuart begins with Julius Caesar, and reckons them in this manner: the "five that are fallen" are Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius. Nero, who, as he supposes, was the reigning prince at the time when the book was written, he regards as the sixth; Galba, who succeeded him, as the seventh. Others, who adopt this literal method of explaining it, suppose that the time begins with Augustus, and then Galba would be the sixth, and Otho, who reigned but three months, would be the seventh. The expression, "the beast that was, and is not, who is the eighth," Prof. Stuart regards as referring to a general impression among the pagan and among Christians, in the time of the persecution under Nero, that he would again appear after it was reported that he was dead, or that he would rise from the dead and carry on his persecution again. See Prof. Stuart, Com. vol. ii., Excur. 3. The beast, according to this view, denotes the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, and the reference in Revelation 17:8 is to "the well known hariolation respecting Nero, that he would be assassinated, and would disappear for a while, and then make his appearance again to the confusion of all his enemies." "What the angel," says he, "says, seems to be equivalent to this - 'The beast means the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, of whom the report spread throughout the empire that he will revive, after being apparently slain, and will come, as it were, from the abyss or Hades, but he will perish, and that speedily,'" vol. ii. p. 323.
(2) That the word "kings" is not to be taken literally, but that it refers to forms of government, dynasties, or modes of administration. The general opinion among those who hold this view is, that the first six refer to the forms of the Roman government:
(5) military tribunes;
(6) the imperial form, beginning with Augustus.
This has been the common Protestant interpretation, and in reference to these six forms of government there has been a general agreement. But, while the mass of Protestant interpreters have supposed that the "six" heads refer to these forms of administration, there has been much diversity of opinion as to the seventh; and here, on this plan of interpretation, the main, if not the sole difficulty lies. Among the opinions held are the following:
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
And the ten horns which thou sawest - On the scarlet-colored beast, Revelation 17:3.
Are ten kings - Represent or denote ten kings - that is, kingdoms or powers. See the notes on Daniel 7:24.
Which have received no kingdom as yet - That is, they were not in existence when John wrote. It is implied, that during the period under review they would arise, and would become connected, in an important sense, with the power here represented by the "beast." For a full illustration respecting the ten "kings," or kingdoms here referred to, see the notes on Daniel 7, at the close of the chapter, II.((2).
But receive power - It is not said from what source this power is received, but it is simply implied that it would in fact be conferred on them.
As kings - That is, the power would be what is usually exercised by kings.
One hour - It cannot be supposed that this is to be taken literally. The meaning clearly is, that this would be brief and temporary; that is, it was a form of administration which would be succeeded by one more fixed and permanent. Anyone can see that, in fact, this is strictly applicable to the governments, as referred to in the notes on Daniel, which sprang up after the incursion of the northern barbarians, and which were finally succeeded by the permanent forms of government in Europe. Most of them were very brief in their duration, and they were soon remodelled in the forms of permanent administration. Thus, to take the arrangement proposed by Sir Isaac Newton:
(1) the kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in Spain and Africa;
(2) the kingdom of the Suevians in Spain;
(3) the kingdom of the Visigoths;
(4) the kingdom of the Alans in Gallia;
(5) the kingdom of the Burgundians;
(6) the kingdom of the Franks;
(7) the kingdom of the Britons;
(8) the kingdom of the Huns;
These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
These have one mind - That is, they are united in the promotion of the same object. Though in some respects wholly independent of each other, yet they may be regarded as, in fact, so far united that they tend to promote the same ultimate end. As a fact in history, all these kingdoms, though of different origin, and though not infrequently engaged in war with each other, became Roman Catholics, and were united in the support of the papacy. It was with propriety, therefore, that they should be regarded as so closely connected with that power that they could be represented as "ten horns" on the seven-headed monster.
And shall give their power and strength unto the beast - Shall lend their influence to the support of the papacy, and become the upholders of that power. The meaning, according to the interpretation above proposed, is, that they would all become papal kingdoms, and supporters of the papal power. It is unnecessary to pause to show how true this has been in history. At first, most of the people out of whom these kingdoms sprang were pagans; then many of them embraced Christianity under the prevailing form of Arianism, and this fact was for a time a bar to their perfect adhesion to the Roman see; but they were all ultimately brought wholly under its influence, and became its supporters. In 496 a.d., Clovis, the king of the Franks, on occasion of his victory over the Allemanni, embraced the Catholic faith, and so received the title, transmitted downward through nearly thirteen hundred years to the French kings as his successors, of "the oldest son of the church"; in the course of the sixth century, the kings of Burgundy, Bavaria, Spain, Portugal, England, embraced the same religion, and became the defenders of the papacy. It is well known that each one of the powers above enumerated as constituting these ten kingdoms, became subject to the papacy, and continued so during their separate existence, or when merged into some other power, until the Reformation in the sixteenth century. All "their power and strength was given unto the beast"; all was made subservient to the purposes of papal Rome.
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.
These shall make war with the Lamb - The Lamb of God - the Lord Jesus (See the notes at Revelation 5:6); that is, they would combine with the papacy in opposing evangelical religion. It is not meant that they would openly and avowedly proclaim war against the Son of God, but that they would practically do this in sustaining a persecuting power. It is unnecessary to show how true this has been in history; how entirely they sustained the papacy in all its measures of persecution.
And the Lamb shall overcome them - Shall ultimately gain the victory over them. The meaning is, that they would not be able to extinguish the true religion. In spite of all opposition and persecution, that would still live in the world, until it would be said that a complete triumph was gained.
For he is Lord of lords, and King of kings - He has supreme power over all the earth, and all kings and princes are subject to his control. Compare Revelation 19:16.
And they that are with him - The reference is to the persecuted saints who have adhered to him as his faithful followers in all these protracted conflicts.
Are called - That is, called by him to be his followers; as if he had selected them out of the world to maintain his cause. See the notes on Romans 1:7.
And chosen - See the John 15:16 note, and 1 Peter 1:2 note. In their steadfast adherence to the truth, they had shown that they were truly chosen by the Saviour, and could be relied on in the warfare against the powers of evil.
And faithful - They had shown themselves faithful to him in times of persecution, and in the hour of darkness.
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
And he saith unto me - The angel, Revelation 17:7. This commences the more "literal" statement of what is meant by these symbols. See the Analysis of the chapter.
The waters which thou sawest - See the notes on Revelation 17:1.
Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - For an explanation of these terms, see the notes on Revelation 7:9. The meaning here is:
(a) that these waters represent a multitude of people. This is a common and an obvious symbol - for outspread seas or raging floods would naturally represent such a multitude. See Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Jeremiah 47:2. Compare Iliad, v. 394. The sense here is, that vast numbers of people would be subject to the power here represented by the woman.
(b) They would be composed of different nations, and would be of different languages, It is unnecessary to show that this, in both respects, is applicable to the papacy. Nations have been, and are subject to its control, and nations speaking a large part of the languages of the world. Perhaps under no one government - not even the Babylonian, the Macedonian, or the ancient Roman - was there so great a diversity of people, speaking so many different languages, and having so different an origin.
And the ten horns which thou 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.
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast - Revelation 17:3. The ten powers or kingdoms represented by those horns. See the notes on Revelation 17:12.
These shall hate the whore - There seems to be some incongruity between this statement and what was previously made. In the former Revelation 17:12-14, these ten governments are represented as in alliance with the beast; as "giving all their power and strength" unto it; and as uniting with it in making war with the Lamb. What is here said must, therefore, refer to some subsequent period, indicating some great change in their feelings and policy. We have seen the evidence of the fulfillment of the former statements. This statement will be accomplished if these same powers, represented by the ten horns, that were formerly in alliance with the papacy, shall become its enemy, and contribute to its final overthrow. That is, it will be accomplished if the nations of Europe, embraced within the limits of those ten kingdoms, shall become hostile to the papacy, and shall combine for its overthrow. Is anything more probable than this? France (see the notes on Revelation 16) has already struck more than one heavy blow on that power; England has been detached from it; many of the states of Italy are weary of it, and are ready to rise up against it; and nothing is more probable than that Spain, Portugal, France, Lombardy, and the papal States themselves, will yet throw off the yoke forever, and put an end to a power that has so long ruled over people. It was with the utmost difficulty, in 1848, that the papal power was sustained, and this was done only by foreign swords; the papacy could not probably be protected in another such outbreak. And this passage leads us to anticipate that the period will come - and that probably not far in the future - when those powers that have for so many ages sustained the papacy will become its determined foes, and will rise in their might and bring it forever to an end.
And shall make her desolate and naked - Strip her of all her power and all her attractiveness. That is, applied to papal Rome, all that is so gorgeous and alluring - her wealth, and pomp, and splendor - shall be taken away, and she will be seen as she is, without anything to dazzle the eye or to blind the mind.
And shall eat her flesh - Shall completely destroy her - as if her flesh were consumed. Perhaps the image is taken from the practice of cannibals eating the flesh of their enemies slain in battle. If so, nothing could give a more impressive idea of the utter destruction of this formidable power, or of the feelings of those by whom its end would be brought about.
And burn her with fire - Another image of total destruction. Perhaps the meaning may be, that after her flesh was eaten, such parts of her as remained would be thrown into the fire and consumed. If this be the meaning, the image is a very impressive one to denote absolute and total destruction. Compare the notes on Revelation 18:8.
For God hath 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.
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will - That is, in regard to the destruction of this mighty power. They would be employed as his agents in bringing about his designs. Kings and princes are under the control of God, and, whatever may be their own designs, they are in fact employed to accomplish his purposes, and are instruments in his hands. See the notes on Isaiah 10:7. Compare Psalm 76:10.
And to agree - See Revelation 17:13. That is, they act harmoniously in their support of this power, and so they will in its final destruction.
And give their kingdom unto the beast - See the notes at Revelation 17:13.
Until the words of God shall be fulfilled - Not forever; not as a permanent arrangement. God has fixed a limit to the existence of this power. When his purposes are accomplished, these kingdoms will withdraw their support, and this mighty power will fall to rise no more.
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
And the woman which thou sawest - Revelation 17:3.
Is that great city - Represents that great city.
Which reigneth over the kings of the earth - Rome would of course be understood by this language in the time of John, and all the circumstances, as we have seen, combined to show that Rome, in some form of its dominion, is intended. Even the name could hardly have designated it more clearly, and all expositors agree in supposing that Rome, either as pagan or as Christian, is referred to. The chapter shows that its power is limited; and that, although for purposes which he saw to be wise, God allows it to have a wide influence over the nations of the earth, yet, in his own appointed time, the very powers that have sustained it will become its foes, and combine for its overthrow. Europe needs but little further provocation, and the fires of liberty, which have been so long pent up, will break forth, and that storm of indignation which has expelled the Jesuits from all the courts of Europe; which has abolished the Inquisition; which has more than once led hostile armies to the very gates of papal Rome, will again be aroused in a manner which cannot be allayed, and that mighty power, which has controlled so large a part of the nations of Europe for more than a thousand years of the world's history, will come to an end.