|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:7-14 The beast on which the woman sat was, and is not, and yet is. It was a seat of idolatry and persecution, and is not; not in the ancient form, which was pagan: yet it is; it is truly the seat of idolatry and tyranny, though of another sort and form. It would deceive into stupid and blind submission all the inhabitants of the earth within its influence, except the remnant of the elect. This beast was seven heads, seven mountains, the seven hills on which Rome stands; and seven kings, seven sorts of government. Five were gone by when this prophecy was written; one was then in being; the other was yet to come. This beast, directed by the papacy, makes an eighth governor, and sets up idolatry again. It had ten horns, which are said to be ten kings who had as yet no kingdoms; they should not rise up till the Roman empire was broken; but should for a time be very zealous in her interest. Christ must reign till all enemies be put under his feet. The reason of the victory is, that he is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He has supreme dominion and power over all things; all the powers of earth and hell are subject to his control. His followers are called to this warfare, are fitted for it, and will be faithful in it.
Verse 9. - And here is the mind which hath wisdom. Omit "and." Read, Here is the mind (or, meaning), etc. These words (as in Revelation 13:18) draw attention to the explanation which follows - or else that which precedes (cf. Revelation 13:18). They also make it appear that the explanation which the angel offers of the "mystery" is not one to be understood without some difficulty. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. The diversity of opinions on the interpretation of this passage is mainly owing to the fact that writers are not consistent in their application of symbols and numbers; in one place interpreting figuratively, in another literally. We have repeatedly seen that the language of the Apocalypse and its numbers are symbolical. The seals are not literal seals, the Lamb is not a literal Lamb, the beast is not a literal beast, etc. So here, the mountains are not literal mountains. A mountain is a symbol of power (see on Revelation 8:8); seven is the number significant of universality (see on Revelation 1:4; 5:1, etc.). The plain meaning of the passage, therefore, is that the woman relies upon a visibly universal power. This is precisely the idea contained in ver. 3, which describes the faithless part of the Church (the harlot) trusting to the power of the world (the beast). Of course, the most prominent form of this world power in St. John's time was heathen Rome, hence some writers believe that "the seven-hilled city," Rome, is referred to here - either pagan or papal Rome. And, indeed, this may be a partial fulfilment of the vision; but it is not the whole signification. To understand seven mountains literally in this place renders it necessary to interpret forty-two weeks, etc., literally in another.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And here is the mind which hath wisdom,.... This refers either to what goes before, concerning the beast, his various states, rise, and ruin, and his admirers; or to what follows after, concerning the meaning of his heads and horns, or to both; and the sense is, that notwithstanding the interpretation of these things by the angel, yet it requires a large share of wisdom to understand them; and here is enough to exercise the mind that is ever so well stored with knowledge and understanding; and so the Arabic version renders it, "here it is required that one should have judgment and wisdom"; for to a man that has not, the affair will still be obscure and unintelligible. The words may be rendered, "here is the mind, he that hath wisdom"; that is, let him make use of it, as in Revelation 13:18 and so the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "and this is the sense, he that hath wisdom"; this is the sense of the beast, and of his heads and horns; and he that has wisdom, let him consider it, and take it in, and apply it to proper persons, things, and times; and so the Ethiopic version, "he that has wisdom and understanding, let him know this"; or take cognizance of it, it being a matter of importance, and attended with difficulty:
the seven heads are seven mountains of which the woman sitteth that is, they signify seven mountains, or are symbolical representations of them; just as the seven good kine, and seven good ears, in Pharoah's dream, signified seven years of plenty, and seven thin kine, and seven empty ears, seven years of famine, Genesis 41:26. As the woman is a city, Revelation 17:18 these seven mountains, on which she sits, must be so many mountains on which the city is built; and what city can this be but Rome, which is so famous for being built on seven hills? This is taken notice of by Virgil (m), Horace (n), Ovid (o), Claudian (p), Starius (q), Martial (r), and others; and indeed there is scarce a poet that speaks of Rome but observes it: hence it has been sometimes called, by writers, the seven hilled city, and sometimes Septiceps, the seven headed city, which comes near to the language here: the names of the seven mountains were these, Capitolinus, Palatinus, Aventinus, Esquilinus, Coelius, Viminalis, and Quirinalis; the four first of these were taken in by Romulus, the first founder of it, and the three last by Servius Tullius, when he enlarged it; and upon the addition of the seventh mountain there was a feast kept, called Septimontium; and which was kept in seven places in the city (s); and was annually observed; and in this situation it was in John's time; for Pliny (t), who was contemporary with him, expressly says, that in his time it took in seven mountains; and that this refers to a city in John's time, then reigning over the kings of the earth, is certain from Revelation 17:18. Now there was no imperial city, so built in his time, but Rome: for though Constantinople is built on seven hills, yet this was not in being in John's time, but was built by Constantine many years after, in imitation of Rome; and though the situation is much altered now, being in Campus Martius, it being greatly reduced, and in a less compass, yet this hinders not but that it is the same city here designed: and this confirms that the beast before spoken of, on whom the woman sat, is the Roman empire, since she is here said to sit on the seven mountains, on which Rome, the metropolis of that empire, was built; and this shows the pope of Rome to be antichrist, the great whore, Babylon, the mother of harlots, since no other has his seat at Rome but he.
(m) Aeneid. 6. (n) In Carmine Seculari. (o) De Trist. l. 1. Eleg. 4. (p) L. 3. de Laud. Stilicon. l. 3. ver. 135. (q) Syl. l. 1. Syl. 2. ver. 191. (r) L. 4. Ephesians 53. (s) Alex. ab Alex. Genial Dier. l. 6. c. 11. (t) Nat. Hist. l. 3. c. 5.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
9. Compare Re 13:18; Da 12:10, where similarly spiritual discernment is put forward as needed in order to understand the symbolical prophecy.
seven heads and seven mountains—The connection between mountains and kings must be deeper than the mere outward fact to which incidental allusion is made, that Rome (the then world city) is on seven hills (whence heathen Rome had a national festival called Septimontium, the feast of the seven-hilled city [Plutarch]; and on the imperial coins, just as here, she is represented as a woman seated on seven hills. Coin of Vespasian, described by Captain Smyth [Roman Coins, p. 310; Ackerman, 1, p. 87]). The seven heads can hardly be at once seven kings or kingdoms (Re 17:10), and seven geographical mountains. The true connection is, as the head is the prominent part of the body, so the mountain is prominent in the land. Like "sea" and "earth"and "waters … peoples" (Re 17:15), so "mountains" have a symbolical meaning, namely, prominent seats of power. Especially such as are prominent hindrances to the cause of God (Ps 68:16, 17; Isa 40:4; 41:15; 49:11; Eze 35:2); especially Babylon (which geographically was in a plain, but spiritually is called a destroying mountain, Jer 51:25), in majestic contrast to which stands Mount Zion, "the mountain of the Lord's house" (Isa 2:2), and the heavenly mount; Re 21:10, "a great and high mountain … and that great city, the holy Jerusalem." So in Da 2:35, the stone becomes a mountain—Messiah's universal kingdom supplanting the previous world kingdoms. As nature shadows forth the great realities of the spiritual world, so seven-hilled Rome is a representative of the seven-headed world power of which the dragon has been, and is the prince. The "seven kings" are hereby distinguished from the "ten kings" (Re 17:12): the former are what the latter are not, "mountains," great seats of the world power. The seven universal God-opposed monarchies are Egypt (the first world power which came into collision with God's people,) Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Medo-Persia, Rome, the Germanic-Slavonic empire (the clay of the fourth kingdom mixed with its iron in Nebuchadnezzar's image, a fifth material, Da 2:33, 34, 42, 43, symbolizing this last head). These seven might seem not to accord with the seven heads in Da 7:4-7, one head on the first beast (Babylon), one on the second (Medo-Persia), four on the third (Greece; namely, Egypt, Syria, Thrace with Bithynia, and Greece with Macedon): but Egypt and Greece are in both lists. Syria answers to Assyria (from which the name Syria is abbreviated), and Thrace with Bithynia answers to the Gothic-Germanic-Slavonic hordes which, pouring down on Rome from the North, founded the Germanic-Slavonic empire. The woman sitting on the seven hills implies the Old and New Testament Church conforming to, and resting on, the world power, that is, on all the seven world kingdoms. Abraham and Isaac dissembling as to their wives through fear of the kings of Egypt foreshadowed this. Compare Eze 16:1-63; 23:1-49, on Israel's whoredoms with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon; and Mt 7:24; 24:10-12, 23-26, on the characteristics of the New Testament Church's harlotry, namely, distrust, suspicion, hatred, treachery, divisions into parties, false doctrine.
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