|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:1-6 Rome clearly appears to be meant in this chapter. Pagan Rome subdued and ruled with military power, not by art and flatteries. She left the nations in general to their ancient usages and worship. But it is well known that by crafty and politic management, with all kinds of deceit of unrighteousness, papal Rome has obtained and kept her rule over kings and nations. Here were allurements of worldly honour and riches, pomp and pride, suited to sensual and worldly minds. Prosperity, pomp, and splendour, feed the pride and lusts of the human heart, but are no security against the Divine vengeance. The golden cup represents the allurements, and delusions, by which this mystical Babylon has obtained and kept her influence, and seduced others to join her abominations. She is named, from her infamous practices, a mother of harlots; training them up to idolatry and all sorts of wickedness. She filled herself with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus. She intoxicated herself with it; and it was so pleasant to her, that she never was satisfied. We cannot but wonder at the oceans of Christian blood shed by men called Christians; yet when we consider these prophecies, these awful deeds testify to the truth of the gospel. And let all beware of a splendid, gainful, or fashionable religion. Let us avoid the mysteries of iniquity, and study diligently the great mystery of godliness, that we may learn humility and gratitude from the example of Christ. The more we seek to resemble him, the less we shall be liable to be deceived by antichrist.
Verse 3. - So he carried me away in the spirit; and he carried, etc. (cf. Revelation 1:10 and Revelation 21:10). In the latter reference the analogy is sufficiently close to lead us to believe that it is intended. Into the wilderness; a wilderness, according to the Revised Version, which is the rendering of Wordsworth and others; but Alford strongly supports the Authorized Version rendering, notwithstanding the absence of the Greek article (see Alford, in loc.). Some commentators have thought that the "wilderness" signifies the desolation which is the lot of the harlot (see ver. 16; Revelation 18:2, 19; also Jeremiah 51:26). But we can hardly avoid the conclusion that the "wilderness" here is that spoken of in Revelation 12:6, 14, which is symbolical of this world, particularly when we remember that the "wilderness" in both cases is the abode of a woman, who moreover is representative of the Church; though in Revelation 12. she represents the Church of God as a whole, persecuted by Satan, and in this place the woman is representative of the faithless part of the Church (see also below on "beast"). Vitringa, referring to Isaiah 21:1, and Revelation 17:1, 15, and Ezekiel 20:35, arrives at a similar conclusion; it is a "wilderness of the people." And I saw a woman. There is no article, but this vision, occurring immediately after the words of ver. 1, "I will show thee... the great harlot," identifies this woman with the harlot of ver. 1. This woman represents the faithless portion of the Church (see on ver. 1); that part which, following after worldly things, has thereby rendered to the beast the love and honour due to God alone. This woman is not identical with the woman of Revelation 12. The latter represents the faithful, the former the faithless, part of the Church. Sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Here again, as in "wilderness" (vide supra), we have θηρίον, "beast," without the article; but the identity of this "beast" with that of Revelation 13:1 is established by
(1) the same outward characteristics of names of blasphemy, seven heads and ten horns;
(2) its connection with "kings," etc. (vers. 12-14 and Revelation 19:19, 20);
(3) its connection with the "false prophet" (Revelation 13. and Revelation 19:20);
(4) its connection with the harlot - the one representing the world power, the other the faithless, worldly portion of the Church. That the woman sits upon the beast denotes, not that she exercises control and guidance over it (as Alford), for comp. ver. 16, but rather that the woman relies upon the beast for support and safety; thus presenting an accurate description of those who prefer to trust to the power and influence of the world rather than to God. Scarlet (whether the colour of the beast itself or of its trappings is immaterial) may signify either
(1) the worldly pre-eminence and power of which it is the sign, and for which the woman allies herself with the beast; or
(2) the blood-stained persecution of which the beast is the author. The first interpretation coincides best with the words which immediately follow; the second one agrees with the description in ver. 6 and Revelation 13:7. (On the "names of blasphemy," as signifying opposition to and rivalry with God, see on Revelation 13:1.) The seven heads denote universality of (earthly) dominion, and the ten horns denote plenitude of power (see on Revelation 13:1).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
So he carried me away in the spirit,.... Not in body, as if he was removed from the isle of Patmos to some other place; but in a visionary way, just as Ezekiel was carried between earth and heaven, in the visions of God, to Jerusalem, Ezekiel 8:3. It was represented to the mind of John, to his spirit, or soul, as if he had been taken up by the angel and carried through the air:
into the wilderness; by which may be meant either the wilderness of the people, the world, the church hereafter described, being a worldly one, and consisting of worldly men; or Gentilism, the Gentile world is often in the prophecies of the Old Testament called a wilderness; the Romish church having much of Heathen worship, and Heathen customs and practices in it, hence its votaries are called Gentiles, Revelation 11:2 or this circumstance may be mentioned, and the thing so represented to John, because that a wilderness is a solitary place, and fit for retirement and meditation; and where he might, without any interruption, take a full view of the following sight, and make proper observations upon it; and it is worth notice, that this is the place where the true church and became out of sight, in the room of which this apostate church appears: or, as others have thought, John is had into the wilderness, where the true church was hid and nourished, and the false one is there shown him, that seeing both together, he might compare them, and observe the difference between them; to all which may be added, that a wilderness is a fit place for such a beast as hereafter described to be seen in:
and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast; the beast is the same with that in Revelation 13:1 as the description shows, and is no other than the Roman empire as Papal; the "scarlet" colour is expressive of its imperial dignity, its power and authority, it received from the dragon; and also of this beast's cruelty and tyranny, and of its shedding the blood of the saints: the woman sitting upon it is the great city of Rome, as is manifest from Revelation 17:18 or the Romish antichrist, the apostate church of Rome, represented by a woman, as the true church is, Revelation 12:1 but in a very different form, and is the same with the second beast in Revelation 13:11 and the false prophet; and as the two beasts respect the same, under different considerations, namely, the Papacy, in its civil and ecclesiastic capacity, so this strange phenomenon, a woman sitting on such a beast, means one and the same thing as the horse and his rider in the seals, though in different views; the woman designs the Romish church, with the pope at the head of it, and the beast the Roman Papal empire as civil, by which the former is supported and upheld, bore up on high, and exalted in the manner it has been: moreover, as purple and scarlet are the colours of garments wore by the pope, and cardinals, hence the woman in the next verse is said to be "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour", so even the very beasts on which they rode were covered with scarlet. Platina (h) says that Pope Paul the Second
"ordered by a public decree, on pain or punishment, that no man should wear a scarlet cap but cardinals; to whom also, in the first year of his popedom, he gave cloth of the same colour, to put upon their horses and mules when they rode; and besides, would have put into the decree, that the cardinals' hats should be of scarlet silk:''
upon which Du Maulin (i) makes this remark;
"Pope Paul the Second was the first that gave scarlet to the cardinals, as well for themselves as for their mules, to the end that this prophecy, which agreeth in general with the see of Rome, might likewise appertain particularly to everyone of the pillars of the said see, which is to be set upon a "scarlet coloured beast".''
full of names of blasphemy: that is, the beast, or Roman Papal empire, was full of them; in Revelation 13:1 a name of blasphemy is said to be upon his head, and he to have a mouth speaking blasphemy; but here his whole body is represented as full of them, and may refer to the blasphemous doctrines of worshipping of images, of pardons and indulgences, of transubstantiation, &c. and to the multitude of images, of the virgin Mary, and other saints, in the antichristian state, in every part of it; and to those blaspheming persons, the cardinals, priests, and Jesuits, which abound in it; as well as to those blasphemous names and titles which are given to the pope, the head of it, or assumed by him; such as God on earth, the vicar of Christ, the head, and husband, and foundation of the church, with many others:
having seven heads, and ten horns: the seven heads are the seven mountains, on which the city of Rome, the metropolis of the empire, is seated; and the seven kings, or seven forms of government, under which it has been, as appears from Revelation 17:9; see Gill on Revelation 13:1 and the "ten horns" signify the ten kings over the ten kingdoms, into which the empire was divided, when overrun by the Goths and Vandals; and which ten kings gave their kingdoms to the beast, the Romish antichrist; they gave their strength and power to him, being of his religion, and have been his horns, his defenders and supporters, ever since, as may be gathered from Revelation 17:12.
(h) De Vitis Pontiticum, p. 312. (i) Defence of the Catholic Faith, &c. c. 3. p. 38.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
3. the wilderness—Contrast her in Re 12:6, 14, having a place in the wilderness-world, but not a home; a sojourner here, looking for the city to come. Now, on the contrary, she is contented to have her portion in this moral wilderness.
upon a scarlet … beast—The same as in Re 13:1, who there is described as here, "having seven heads and ten horns (therein betraying that he is representative of the dragon, Re 12:3), and upon his heads names (so the oldest manuscripts read) of blasphemy"; compare also Re 17:12-14, below, with Re 19:19, 20, and Re 17:13, 14, 16. Rome, resting on the world power and ruling it by the claim of supremacy, is the chief, though not the exclusive, representative of this symbol. As the dragon is fiery-red, so the beast is blood-red in color; implying its blood-guiltiness, and also deep-dyed sin. The scarlet is also the symbol of kingly authority.
full—all over; not merely "on his heads," as in Re 13:1, for its opposition to God is now about to develop itself in all its intensity. Under the harlot's superintendence, the world power puts forth blasphemous pretensions worse than in pagan days. So the Pope is placed by the cardinals in God's temple on the altar to sit there, and the cardinals kiss the feet of the Pope. This ceremony is called in Romish writers "the adoration." [Historie de Clerge, Amsterd., 1716; and Lettenburgh's Notitia Curiæ Romanæ, 1683, p. 125; Heidegger, Myst. Bab., 1, 511, 514, 537]; a papal coin [Numismata Pontificum, Paris, 1679, p. 5] has the blasphemous legend, "Quem creant, adorant." Kneeling and kissing are the worship meant by John's word nine times used in respect to the rival of God (Greek, "proskunein"). Abomination, too, is the scriptural term for an idol, or any creature worshipped with the homage due to the Creator. Still, there is some check on the God-opposed world power while ridden by the harlot; the consummated Antichrist will be when, having destroyed her, the beast shall be revealed as the concentration and incarnation of all the self-deifying God-opposed principles which have appeared in various forms and degrees heretofore. "The Church has gained outward recognition by leaning on the world power which in its turn uses the Church for its own objects; such is the picture here of Christendom ripe for judgment" [Auberlen]. The seven heads in the view of many are the seven successive forms of government of Rome: kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, emperors, the German emperors [Wordsworth], of whom Napoleon is the successor (Re 17:11). But see the view given, see on Re 17:9, 10, which I prefer. The crowns formerly on the ten horns (Re 13:1) have now disappeared, perhaps an indication that the ten kingdoms into which the Germanic-Slavonic world [the old Roman empire, including the East as well as the West, the two legs of the image with five toes on each, that is, ten in all] is to be divided, will lose their monarchical form in the end [Auberlen]; but see Re 17:12, which seems to imply crowned kings.
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