Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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:
Re 17:1-18. The Harlot Babylon's Gaud: The Beast on Which She Rides, Having Seven Heads and Ten Horns, Shall Be the Instrument of Judgment on Her.
As Re 16:12 stated generally the vial judgment about to be poured on the harlot, Babylon's power, as the seventeenth and eighteen chapters give the same in detail, so the nineteenth chapter gives in detail the judgment on the beast and the false prophet, summarily alluded to in Re 16:13-15, in connection with the Lord's coming.
1. unto me—A, B, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic omit.
many—So A. But B, "the many waters" (Jer 51:13); Re 17:15, below, explains the sense. The whore is the apostate Church, just as "the woman" (Re 12:1-6) is the Church while faithful. Satan having failed by violence, tries too successfully to seduce her by the allurements of the world; unlike her Lord, she was overcome by this temptation; hence she is seen sitting on the scarlet-colored beast, no longer the wife, but the harlot; no longer Jerusalem, but spiritually Sodom (Re 11:8).
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.
2. drunk with—Greek, "owing to." It cannot be pagan Rome, but papal Rome, if a particular seat of error be meant, but I incline to think that the judgment (Re 18:2) and the spiritual fornication (Re 18:3), though finding their culmination in Rome, are not restricted to it, but comprise the whole apostate Church, Roman, Greek, and even Protestant, so far as it has been seduced from its "first love" (Re 2:4) to Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, and given its affections to worldly pomps and idols. The woman (Re 12:1) is the congregation of God in its purity under the Old and New Testament, and appears again as the Bride of the Lamb, the transfigured Church prepared for the marriage feast. The woman, the invisible Church, is latent in the apostate Church, and is the Church militant; the Bride is the Church triumphant.
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.
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.
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:
4. The color scarlet, it is remarkable, is that reserved for popes and cardinals. Paul II made it penal for anyone but cardinals to wear hats of scarlet; compare Roman Ceremonial [3.5.5]. This book was compiled several centuries ago by Marcellus, a Romish archbishop, and dedicated to Leo X. In it are enumerated five different articles of dress of scarlet color. A vest is mentioned studded with pearls. The Pope's miter is of gold and precious stones. These are the very characteristics outwardly which Revelation thrice assigns to the harlot or Babylon. So Joachim an abbot from Calabria, about A.D. 1200, when asked by Richard of England, who had summoned him to Palestine, concerning Antichrist, replied that "he was born long ago at Rome, and is now exalting himself above all that is called God." Roger Hoveden [Annals, 1.2], and elsewhere, wrote, "The harlot arrayed in gold is the Church of Rome." Whenever and wherever (not in Rome alone) the Church, instead of being "clothed (as at first, Re 12:1) with the sun" of heaven, is arrayed in earthly meretricious gauds, compromising the truth of God through fear, or flattery, of the world's power, science, or wealth, she becomes the harlot seated on the beast, and doomed in righteous retribution to be judged by the beast (Re 17:16). Soon, like Rome, and like the Jews of Christ's and the apostles' time leagued with the heathen Rome, she will then become the persecutor of the saints (Re 17:6). Instead of drinking her Lord's "cup" of suffering, she has "a cup full of abominations and filthinesses." Rome, in her medals, represents herself holding a cup with the self-condemning inscription, "Sedet super universum." Meanwhile the world power gives up its hostility and accepts Christianity externally; the beast gives up its God-opposed character, the woman gives up her divine one. They meet halfway by mutual concessions; Christianity becomes worldly, the world becomes Christianized. The gainer is the world; the loser is the Church. The beast for a time receives a deadly wound (Re 13:3), but is not really transfigured; he will return worse than ever (Re 17:11-14). The Lord alone by His coming can make the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ. The "purple" is the badge of empire; even as in mockery it was put on our Lord.
filthiness—A, B, and Andreas read, "the filthy (impure) things."
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
5. upon … forehead … name—as harlots usually had. What a contrast to "Holiness to the Lord," inscribed on the miter on the high priest's forehead!
mystery—implying a spiritual fact heretofore hidden, and incapable of discovery by mere reason, but now revealed. As the union of Christ and the Church is a "great mystery" (a spiritual truth of momentous interest, once hidden, now revealed, Eph 5:31, 32), so the Church conforming to the world and thereby becoming a harlot is a counter "mystery" (or spiritual truth, symbolically now revealed). As iniquity in the harlot is a leaven working in "mystery," and therefore called "the mystery of iniquity," so when she is destroyed, the iniquity heretofore working (comparatively) latently in her, shall be revealed in the man of iniquity, the open embodiment of all previous evil. Contrast the "mystery of God" and "godliness," Re 10:7; 1Ti 3:16. It was Rome that crucified Christ; that destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews; that persecuted the early Christians in pagan times, and Protestant Christians in papal times; and probably shall be again restored to its pristine grandeur, such as it had under the Cæsars, just before the burning of the harlot and of itself with her. So Hippolytus [On Antichrist] (who lived in the second century), thought. Popery cannot be at one and the same time the "mystery of iniquity," and the manifested or revealed Antichrist. Probably it will compromise for political power (Re 17:3) the portion of Christianity still in its creed, and thus shall prepare the way for Antichrist's manifestation. The name Babylon, which in the image, Da 2:32, 38, is given to the head, is here given to the harlot, which marks her as being connected with the fourth kingdom, Rome, the last part of the image. Benedict XIII, in his indiction for a jubilee, A.D. 1725, called Rome "the mother of all believers, and the mistress of all churches" (harlots like herself). The correspondence of syllables and accents in Greek is striking; "He porne kai to therion; He numphe kai to arnion." "The whore and the beast; the Bride and the Lamb."
of harlots—Greek, "of the harlots and of the abominations." Not merely Rome, but Christendom as a whole, even as formerly Israel as a whole, has become a harlot. The invisible Church of true believers is hidden and dispersed in the visible Church. The boundary lines which separate harlot and woman are not denominational nor drawn externally, but can only be spiritually discerned. If Rome were the only seat of Babylon, much of the spiritual profit of Revelation would be lost to us; but the harlot "sitteth upon many waters" (Re 17:1), and "ALL nations have drunk of the wine of her fornication" (Re 17:2; Re 18:3; "the earth," Re 19:2). External extensiveness over the whole world and internal conformity to the world—worldliness in extent and contents—is symbolized by the name of the world city, "Babylon." As the sun shines on all the earth, thus the woman clothed with the sun is to let her light penetrate to the uttermost parts of the earth. But she, in externally Christianizing the world, permits herself to be seduced by the world; thus her universality or catholicity is not that of the Jerusalem which we look for ("the MOTHER of us all," Re 21:2; Isa 2:2-4; Ga 4:26), but that of Babylon, the world-wide but harlot city! (As Babylon was destroyed, and the Jews restored to Jerusalem by Cyrus, so our Cyrus—a Persian name meaning the sun—the Sun of righteousness, shall bring Israel, literal and spiritual, to the holy Jerusalem at His coming. Babylon and Jerusalem are the two opposite poles of the spiritual world). Still, the Romish Church is not only accidentally and as a matter of fact, but in virtue of its very PRINCIPLE, a harlot, the metropolis of whoredom, "the mother of harlots"; whereas the evangelical Protestant Church is, according to her principle and fundamental creed, a chaste woman; the Reformation was a protest of the woman against the harlot. The spirit of the heathen world kingdom Rome had, before the Reformation, changed the Church in the West into a Church-State, Rome; and in the East, into a State-Church, fettered by the world power, having its center in Byzantium; the Roman and Greek churches have thus fallen from the invisible spiritual essence of the Gospel into the elements of the world [Auberlen]. Compare with the "woman" called "Babylon" here, the woman named "wickedness," or "lawlessness," "iniquity" (Zec 5:7, 8, 11), carried to Babylon: compare "the mystery of iniquity" and "the man of sin," "that wicked one," literally, "the lawless one" (2Th 2:7, 8; also Mt 24:12).
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.
I wondered with great admiration—As the Greek is the same in the verb and the noun, translate the latter "wonder." John certainly did not admire her in the modern English sense. Elsewhere (Re 17:8; 13:3), all the earthly-minded ("they that dwell on the earth") wonder in admiration of the beast. Here only is John's wonder called forth; not the beast, but the woman sunken into the harlot, the Church become a world-loving apostate, moves his sorrowful astonishment at so awful a change. That the world should be beastly is natural, but that the faithful bride should become the whore is monstrous, and excites the same amazement in him as the same awful change in Israel excited in Isaiah and Jeremiah. "Horrible thing" in them answers to "abominations" here. "Corruptio optimi pessima"; when the Church falls, she sinks lower than the godless world, in proportion as her right place is higher than the world. It is striking that in Re 17:3, "woman" has not the article, "the woman," as if she had been before mentioned: for though identical in one sense with the woman, Re 12:1-6, in another sense she is not. The elect are never perverted into apostates, and still remain as the true woman invisibly contained in the harlot; yet Christendom regarded as the woman has apostatized from its first faith.
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.
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.
8. beast … was, and is not—(Compare Re 17:11). The time when the beast "is not" is the time during which it has "the deadly wound"; the time of the seventh head becoming Christian externally, when its beast-like character was put into suspension temporarily. The healing of its wound answers to its ascending out of the bottomless pit. The beast, or Antichristian world power, returns worse than ever, with satanic powers from hell (Re 11:7), not merely from the sea of convulsed nations (Re 13:1). Christian civilization gives the beast only a temporary wound, whence the deadly wound is always mentioned in connection with its being healed up the non-existence of the beast in connection with its reappearance; and Daniel does not even notice any change in the world power effected by Christianity. We are endangered on one side by the spurious Christianity of the harlot, on the other by the open Antichristianity of the beast; the third class is Christ's little flock."
go—So B, Vulgate, and Andreas read the future tense. But A and Irenæus, "goeth."
into perdition—The continuance of this revived seventh (that is, the eighth) head is short: it is therefore called "the son of perdition," who is essentially doomed to it almost immediately after his appearance.
names were—so Vulgate and Andreas. But A, B, Syriac, and Coptic read the singular, "name is."
written in—Greek, "upon."
which—rather, "when they behold the beast that it was," &c. So Vulgate.
was, and is not, and yet is—A, B, and Andreas read, "and shall come" (literally, "be present," namely, again: Greek, "kai parestai"). The Hebrew, "tetragrammaton," or sacred four letters in Jehovah, "who is, who was, and who is to come," the believer's object of worship, has its contrasted counterpart in the beast "who was, and is not, and shall be present," the object of the earth's worship [Bengel]. They exult with wonder in seeing that the beast which had seemed to have received its death blow from Christianity, is on the eve of reviving with greater power than ever on the ruins of that religion which tormented them (Re 11:10).
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
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.
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.
10. there are—Translate, "they (the seven heads) are seven kings."
five … one—Greek, "the five … the one"; the first five of the seven are fallen (a word applicable not to forms of government passing away, but to the fall of once powerful empires: Egypt, Eze 29:1-30:26; Assyria and Nineveh, Na 3:1-19; Babylon, Re 18:2; Jer 50:1-51:64; Medo-Persia, Da 8:3-7, 20-22; 10:13; 11:2; Greece, Da 11:4). Rome was "the one" existing in John's days. "Kings" is the Scripture phrase for kingdoms, because these kingdoms are generally represented in character by some one prominent head, as Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Medo-Persia by Cyrus, Greece by Alexander, &c.
the other is not yet come—not as Alford, inaccurately representing Auberlen, the Christian empire beginning with Constantine; but, the Germanic-Slavonic empire beginning and continuing in its beast-like, that is, HEATHEN Antichristian character for only "a short space." The time when it is said of it, "it is not" (Re 17:11), is the time during which it is "wounded to death," and has the "deadly wound" (Re 13:3). The external Christianization of the migrating hordes from the North which descended on Rome, is the wound to the beast answering to the earth swallowing up the flood (heathen tribes) sent by the dragon, Satan, to drown the woman, the Church. The emphasis palpably is on "a short space," which therefore comes first in the Greek, not on "he must continue," as if his continuance for some [considerable] time were implied, as Alford wrongly thinks. The time of external Christianization (while the beast's wound continues) has lasted for centuries, ever since Constantine. Rome and the Greek Church have partially healed the wound by image worship.
And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
11. beast that … is not—his beastly character being kept down by outward Christianization of the state until he starts up to life again as "the eighth" king, his "wound being healed" (Re 13:3), Antichrist manifested in fullest and most intense opposition to God. The "he" is emphatic in the Greek. He, peculiarly and pre-eminently: answering to "the little horn" with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten "give their power and strength" (Re 17:12, 13, 17). That a personal Antichrist will stand at the head of the Antichristian kingdom, is likely from the analogy of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Old Testament Antichrist, "the little horn" in Da 8:9-12; also, "the man of sin, son of perdition" (2Th 2:3-8), answers here to "goeth into perdition," and is applied to an individual, namely, Judas, in the only other passage where the phrase occurs (Joh 17:12). He is essentially a child of destruction, and hence he has but a little time ascended out of the bottomless pit, when he "goes into perdition" (Re 17:8, 11). "While the Church passes through death of the flesh to glory of the Spirit, the beast passes through the glory of the flesh to death" [Auberlen].
is of the seven—rather "springs out of the seven." The eighth is not merely one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God-opposed features of the previous seven concentrated and consummated; for which reason there are said to be not eight, but only seven heads, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven. In the birth-pangs which prepare the "regeneration" there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances [Auberlen], wherein Antichrist takes his rise ("sea," Re 13:1; Mr 13:8; Lu 21:9-11). He does not fall like the other seven (Re 17:10), but is destroyed, going to his own perdition, by the Lord in person.
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.
12. ten kings … received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings … with the beast—Hence and from Re 17:14, 16, it seems that these ten kings or kingdoms, are to be contemporaries with the beast in its last or eighth form, namely, Antichrist. Compare Da 2:34, 44, "the stone smote the image upon his feet," that is, upon the ten toes, which are, in Da 2:41-44, interpreted to be "kings." The ten kingdoms are not, therefore, ten which arose in the overthrow of Rome (heathen), but are to rise out of the last state of the fourth kingdom under the eighth head. I agree with Alford that the phrase "as kings," implies that they reserve their kingly rights in their alliance with the beast, wherein "they give their power and strength unto" him (Re 17:13). They have the name of kings, but not with undivided kingly power [Wordsworth]. See Auberlen's not so probable view, see on Re 17:3.
one hour—a definite time of short duration, during which "the devil is come down to the inhabitant of the earth and of the sea, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Probably the three and a half years (Re 11:2, 3; 13:5). Antichrist is in existence long before the fall of Babylon; but it is only at its fail he obtains the vassalage of the ten kings. He in the first instance imposes on the Jews as the Messiah, coming in his own name; then persecutes those of them who refuse his blasphemous pretensions. Not until the sixth vial, in the latter part of his reign, does he associate the ten kings with him in war with the Lamb, having gained them over by the aid of the spirits of devils working miracles. His connection with Israel appears from his sitting "in the temple of God" (2Th 2:4), and as the antitypical "abomination of desolation standing in the Holy place" (Da 9:27; 12:11; Mt 24:15), and "in the city where our Lord was crucified" (Re 11:8). It is remarkable that Irenæus [Against Heresies, 5:25] and Cyril of Jerusalem [Rufinus, Historia Monachorum, 10.37] prophesied that Antichrist would have his seat at Jerusalem and would restore the kingdom of the Jews. Julian the apostate, long after, took part with the Jews, and aided in building their temple, herein being Antichrist's forerunner.
These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
13. one mind—one sentiment.
shall give—So Coptic. But A, B, and Syriac, "give."
strength—Greek, "authority." They become his dependent allies (Re 17:14). Thus Antichrist sets up to be King of kings, but scarcely has he put forth his claim when the true King of kings appears and dashes him down in a moment to destruction.
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.
14. These shall … war with the Lamb—in league with the beast. This is a summary anticipation of Re 19:19. This shall not be till after they have first executed judgment on the harlot (Re 17:15, 16).
Lord of lords, &c.—anticipating Re 19:16.
are—not in the Greek. Therefore translate, "And they that are with Him, called chosen, and faithful (shall overcome them, namely, the beast and his allied kings)." These have been with Christ in heaven unseen, but now appear with Him.
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
15. (Re 17:1; Isa 8:7.) An impious parody of Jehovah who "sitteth upon the flood" [Alford]. Also, contrast the "many waters" Re 19:6, "Alleluia."
peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues—The "peoples," &c., here mark the universality of the spiritual fornication of the Church. The "tongues" remind us of the original Babel, the confusion of tongues, the beginning of Babylon, and the first commencement of idolatrous apostasy after the flood, as the tower was doubtless dedicated to the deified heavens. Thus, Babylon is the appropriate name of the harlot. The Pope, as the chief representative of the harlot, claims a double supremacy over all peoples, typified by the "two swords" according to the interpretation of Boniface VIII in the Bull, "Unam Sanctam," and represented by the two keys: spiritual as the universal bishop, whence he is crowned with the miter; and temporal, whence he is also crowned with the tiara in token of his imperial supremacy. Contrast with the Pope's diadems the "many diadems" of Him who alone has claim to, and shall exercise when He shall come, the twofold dominion (Re 19:12).
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.
16. upon the beast—But A, B, Vulgate, and Syriac read, "and the beast."
shall make her desolate—having first dismounted her from her seat on the beast (Re 17:3).
naked—stripped of all her gaud (Re 17:4). As Jerusalem used the world power to crucify her Saviour, and then was destroyed by that very power, Rome; so the Church, having apostatized to the world, shall have judgment executed on her first by the world power, the beast and his allies; and these afterwards shall have judgment executed on them by Christ Himself in person. So Israel leaning on Egypt, a broken reed, is pierced by it; and then Egypt itself is punished. So Israel's whoredom with Assyria and Babylon was punished by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the Church when it goes a-whoring after the word as if it were the reality, instead of witnessing against its apostasy from God, is false to its profession. Being no longer a reality itself, but a sham, the Church is rightly judged by that world which for a time had used the Church to further its own ends, while all the while "hating" Christ's unworldly religion, but which now no longer wants the Church's aid.
eat her flesh—Greek plural, "masses of flesh," that is, "carnal possessions"; implying the fulness of carnality into which the Church is sunk. The judgment on the harlot is again and again described (Re 18:1; 19:5); first by an "angel having great power" (Re 18:1), then by "another voice from heaven" (Re 18:4-20), then by "a mighty angel" (Re 18:21-24). Compare Eze 16:37-44, originally said of Israel, but further applicable to the New Testament Church when fallen into spiritual fornication. On the phrase, "eat … flesh" for prey upon one's property, and injure the character and person, compare Ps 14:4; 27:2; Jer 10:25; Mic 3:3. The First Napoleon's Edict published at Rome in 1809, confiscating the papal dominions and joining them to France, and later the severance of large portions of the Pope's territory from his sway and the union of them to the dominions of the king of Italy, virtually through Louis Napoleon, are a first instalment of the full realization of this prophecy of the whore's destruction. "Her flesh" seems to point to her temporal dignities and resources, as distinguished from "herself" (Greek). How striking a retribution, that having obtained her first temporal dominions, the exarchate of Ravenna, the kingdom of the Lombards, and the state of Rome, by recognizing the usurper Pepin as lawful king of France, she should be stripped of her dominions by another usurper of France, the Napoleonic dynasty!
burn … with fire—the legal punishment of an abominable fornication.
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.
17. hath put—the prophetical past tense for the future.
fulfil—Greek, "do," or "accomplish." The Greek, "poiesai," is distinct from that which is translated, "fulfilled," Greek, "telesthesontai," below.
his will—Greek, "his mind," or purpose; while they think only of doing their own purpose.
to agree—literally, "to do" (or accomplish) one mind" or "purpose." A and Vulgate omit this clause, but B supports it.
the words of God—foretelling the rise and downfall of the beast; Greek, "hoi logoi," in A, B, and Andreas. English Version reading is Greek, "ta rhemata," which is not well supported. No mere articulate utterances, but the efficient words of Him who is the Word: Greek, "logos."
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
18. reigneth—literally, "hath kingship over the kings." The harlot cannot be a mere city literally, but is called so in a spiritual sense (Re 11:8). Also the beast cannot represent a spiritual power, but a world power. In this verse the harlot is presented before us ripe for judgment. The eighteenth chapter details that judgment.