William Kelly Major Works 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:Revelation Chapter 17
It is necessary to bear in mind, if we have not observed it before, that Revelation 17 does not pursue the chronological course of the prophecy. It is an episode of special objects already treated, not being of the visions that carry us onward in historic sequence. It is a retrogressive description of Babylon in relation with the Beast and the kings, who were brought before us last under the Bowls of God's wrath.
This chapter explains how it was that Babylon became so offensive to God, and wherefore He judged her thus sternly; while the destroying Beast and his horns await the breath and sword of the Lord's mouth.. In giving the description of Babylon, the Holy Spirit enters yet more into an account of her relations with the powers, and gives important particulars of that imperial system of which Rev. 13 in its earlier verses told us not a little. Accordingly these are the two main objects of judgment brought before us in the chapter. Indeed the Beast's judgment carries us beyond all into defeat under the hand of the Lamb, the details of which are reserved for chap. 19. We must therefore look now into the two objects, Babylon and the Beast.
The principle is clear. Man has always sinned in one or other of these two ways, looking now at evil in its broadest forms. The "strange woman" figures corruption, human nature indulging itself in its own selfish desires, irrespective of God's will. The Beast is the expression of man's will raising itself up in direct antagonism to God. In short one may be described as corruption, and the other as violence; for we see both before the deluge (Genesis 6:11-12), and they go down to the close. More than this on the subject is given with great precision in scripture, because it is just the principle of sin in one or other form from the beginning.
Here then we read, "And one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, Come hither; I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon the many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication."
"And he carried me away in Spirit into a wilderness." It is a thorough waste as to the knowledge or enjoyment of God. So in Isaiah 21 the prophet opens the chapter with that which was far beyond the horizon of the keenest creature view: "the burden of the wilderness of the sea," so different from the burden which he saw and gave in Rev. 13, 14, as "the golden city." Hence some refer a "wilderness" here to the campagna of Rome, and its desolation under the Popes as contrasted with its prosperous and populous splendour under the Caesars. This is no doubt true and significant, though spiritual drought and dreariness seem more consonant to the Spirit's expression.
A new symbol appears. "And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast," the well-known emblem of the Roman empire, "full of names of blasphemy" in its wicked opposition to God, and invested with its special forms of power, but with a full combination, "having seven heads and ten horns." For the Spirit of God regards it in its final shape and completeness, as far as it was to be attained. "And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and decked (or, gilded) with gold and precious stone and pearls.' Nor is it perhaps unworthy of note, as has been remarked, that her officials alone in Christendom array themselves in these colours of the world's glory.
Babylon is in direct contrast with the true church, and like the Lord, heavenly glory hers, but meanwhile despised and rejected of men. Everything that could attract the natural man was there; and all that which looks fairest ought to be, she thinks, devoted to religion. Religion! Ah! it is nothing but ecclesiastical pride and corruption as a whole, though individuals may groan in secret, shrinking back into base superstition through alarm at Protestant free thought or worldliness; a religion of grace and truth unknown, of indulgences in sin for money, of dogmatic falsehood like transubstantiation or papal infallibility, of the most bloodthirsty cruelty to real saints of God, of debasing honour to filthy relics, of blasphemous worship paid to saints, angels, and above all the Virgin. Granted that Rome holds a little that is true; but she is keener still for many a lie and fraud; and "no lie is of the truth," says God's word.
But here we see more, "having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and the unclean things of her fornication."* Idolatry is the awful stamp that she bears, and this too both in what she gives to man, and in what is written on her forehead before God. "And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth." Her outward grandeur in numbers, rank, wealth, and pomp impose on high and low; but the plague-spot is her idolatry. As Israel's was against the One God, so hers is more guiltily against the One Mediator, the divine and only remedy in grace and truth.
* Most copies, it would seem, read τῆς γῆς, "of the earth" the Alex. and others give αὐτῆς, "of her." The Sinai MS. has both.
Men have been beguiled here and there, and from an early date, to set aside the true bearing of this chapter. Sometimes they have contended for its application to pagan Rome. Sometimes again they have sought to turn it aside toward Jerusalem in her corrupt state. But a grave consideration soon disposes of both views by her relation to the Beast, and by other particulars to be shown farther on. The application to old pagan Rome is harsh and purposeless enough; but the attempt to refer it to Jerusalem is of all schemes the most absurd. For, far from being borne up by the empire, Jerusalem was and is trodden down by it and other Gentile powers. If there was any nation since John's day, which did not sustain but persecute and suppress Jerusalem, it was Rome, instead of presenting a gaudy harlot mounted on the proud and heartless empire.
The notion that what we have here is said of a future city of Babylon in Chaldea seems no less vain. There is a distinct contrast between the city now described and the ancient Babylon, in that the latter was built on the plain of Shinar, while the former is expressly said to have seven heads, and these explained to mean seven mountains or hills. There is no doubt more in the symbol than the literal hills of Rome, because they are said to be also seven kings or governing powers. Yet we are not at liberty to eliminate such a feature out of the description. It is written to be believed, not to be ignored or explained away. And the second sense of these mountains is as inapplicable to a Chaldean city as the first.
The attempt to apply Babylon to ancient Rome is further unhappy; and for a plain reason. As long as Rome was pagan, there was neither the full bearing of the seven heads, nor did so much as one of the ten horns exist. Any decem-regal division of the broken empire in the west was long after Rome had ceased to be heathen. Nobody can dispute that there arose a remarkable cluster of kingdoms in Europe, as the issue providentially of the fragments when the barbarians broke up the unity of the Roman empire. With that love of freedom which they carried from their wild forests, they destroyed the iron rule that bound men down, and set up their several kingdoms in the different parts of the dismembered empire. Thus the attempt to apply it during the pagan period is altogether futile on the face of the matter. Scripture affords much light to decide the true bearing of the prophecy; and no application to the past can possibly satisfy all the conditions satisfactorily. If ancient times fail fully to meet the requirements of the chapter, it is evident that the Middle Ages passed without any accomplishment as a whole; the Beast, in any consistent sense of the thing and word, was then non-existent. For the fulfilment of the prophecy, we must look onward to the latter day.
This falls in with what we have seen of the book in general. But it is not denied that certain elements which figure in the Apocalypse then existed and still exist. No one can soberly deny that Babylon in some sort had a place then; but that the special and the full character of Babylon was manifested as here portrayed is another matter. We may surely say her cup was not yet full. Not yet was that fairly out before men which God foresaw, as it finally provokes His judgment. Again it seems demonstrable that the relation to the Beast, at last brought before us, must in all fairness be allowed to look onward to a later stage of Babylon. Thus there is no question that some of the actors in the final scenes of the great drama were already there, as the reigning city, and the old Roman empire. Moral elements too were not wanting: the mystery of lawlessness had long been at work, though the enemy had not yet brought in the apostasy, still less the manifestation of the lawless one. But much as may have subsisted then, the Spirit here presents as a whole what cannot be found realised at any point of time in the past. We must perforce look for a still more complete development before the Lamb judges the Beast, after the ten horns along with him shall have destroyed Babylon. Did emperor or pope lead in this?
There is another remark to make. It is hard to see how Rome's city, or anything civil connected with it, could be called "mystery." Partly because of this, many excellent men have endeavoured to apply the vision to Romanism; and this religious system has an incomparably nearer connection with the mysterious harlot than anything yet spoken of. Rome in some form is the woman described in the chapter. The seven heads or hills clearly point to that city, which of all cities might best and indeed alone be known as ruling over the kings of the earth. There is therefore much truth in the Protestant application of the chapter, as compared with the Praeterist theory of pagan Rome. Yet it will be found imperfect, for reasons which ought to be clear to unbiassed and spiritual minds.
There stands the solemn brand graven, not on the blasphemous Beast but on the forehead of its rider, "Mystery, Babylon the great." The question is, why is she thus designated? If only an imperial city, what has this to do with "mystery"? The simple fact of conquering far and wide, and of exercising vast political power in the earth, constitutes no title to such a name. A "mystery" points to something undiscoverable by the natural mind of man. It is a secret which requires the distinct and fresh light of God to unravel, but which when thus revealed becomes plain So it is with this very Babylon that comes before us. Justly does she gather her title from the old fountain of idols and of nature's union for power without God. Confusion too is here the characteristic element. The designation is taken from the renowned city of the Chaldeans, the first spot notorious in both respects.
In short it would seem that God has hedged round His own draft of Babylon, so as to make it quits plain that Rome, city and system, figures in the scene. It may be taken to involve mediaeval application, though the full result will not be till the end of the ago. For where was the Beast after the past barbarian irruption and the resulting many-kingdomed state? Again, that it supposes Rome after it had professed the name of Christ is surely not to be doubted, if only from the expression "mystery" attached to Babylon. It clearly contrasts this mystery with another. We have not to learn what the other mystery means; we know well that it is according to God and of godliness. But here is a mystery altogether different: "Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunk with the. blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus; and seeing her, I wondered with a great wonder."
Here were joined good and evil in godless union, for the worse, not for the better, an alliance unholy in principle, irremediable therefore in practice, between God and the natural man who substitutes rites for the quickening word of God's grace, for the blood of Christ, and for the power of the Spirit; and who employs the name of the Lord as a cover for gross covetousness, ambition, and cruelty, yet more excessive than the vulgar world. All these things have their place in Babylon the great. She is the mother of the harlots, but also (and with still deeper guilt) of the abominations of the earth. This means the idolatries of the earth, real shameless idolatry too, not merely that subtle working of the idolatrous spirit that Christians had to guard against from early days (1 John 5:21). Here it is the positive worship of the creature besides the Creator, yea, and notoriously more than Him. For who knows not the horrors of Mariolatry? Babylon is the parent of the prostitutes and of the abominations (or, idolatries) of the earth. It is not therefore a question of virtual idols suitable to ensnare children of God, but of that open image worship which is of the earth itself, or rather of him who is the prince of the power of the air, thorough going palpable idolatry. What is the crucifix and the Mass? What the veneration of angels and saints? What the honour paid to dead men's bones, hair, nail-parings, and old clothes? Relics indeed!
Such is God's account of Babylon the great. Take notice of this (which confirms the true application), that when John saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, he wondered with a great wonder. Had it been simply a persecution from pagan Rome, who could marvel at its contempt of the truth and hatred of those who confess it? That a proud heathen metropolis, devoted to the worship of Mars, of Jupiter, of Venus, and other wicked monstrosities of pagan mythology, should be irritated with the gospel which exposes it all, and should consequently persecute the faithful, must be expected, and is a necessary result, directly that the uncompromising spirit of Christianity was known. Had those who preached said nothing about idol vanities, were they content to present the gospel as a better thing than anything the pagans could boast, the pagans themselves might have acknowledged thus much. Indeed it is pretty well ascertained that there was a discussion among them, even to the suggestion by one of their emperors, whether Christ should not be owned and worshipped in the Pantheon, before Constantine, and not so far from the earlier ages of the gospel. But none ever thought of giving Christ the only place due to Him. For Christ, as the Son of the Father and witnessed by the Holy Spirit, must be not only supreme but exclusive. Nor was anything more repulsive and fatal to paganism in every form than the truth revealed in Christ, which necessarily displaces everything that is not itself, because He is the truth definite and complete. Consequently Christianity, as being directly aggressive on the falsehood of heathenism, was of all things the most obnoxious to Rome. That pagan Rome therefore must set itself against Christianity was to be expected; it could amaze no one.
But the prophet was astounded that a mysterious form of evil, the counter-testimony of the enemy (not antichrist, but antichurch), could seem, and should be largely accepted as, the holy catholic church of God. He did marvel greatly that Christendom, if not Christianity, should with such a claim become the bitterest of persecutors, more murderously incensed against the witnesses of Jesus and the saints than ever paganism had been in any country or during all ages. This naturally filled him with intense wonder.
"And the angel said to me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? "Had he really penetrated under the surface, and seen that beneath the fair guise of Christendom the woman was, of all things under the sun, the most corrupt and hateful to God, it would not be so surprising. Therefore says the angel, "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, that hath* the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that thou sawest, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose name was not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, beholding the beast that it was, and is not, and shall be present."
* The description here is simply character, not dates. If a person drew from this, for instance, that the Beast was to carry the woman, Babylon, when it had as a fact all that is meant by the seven heads and the ten horns, it would be an error. The angel implies nothing of the sort. It is a question here of distinctive character, apart from that of historical time, for which we must consider other scriptures.
The closing phase here is the description of the Beast in its last state, in which it will come into collision with Babylon. Let us bear this in mind. It will help to convince that, whatever may have been the past conditions of the Beast, here is a future one; and in that future one the Beast is to perish. For, remark, the Beast or Roman empire is described here as that which once existed, which then ceased to exist, and which assumes a final shape when it reappears from the abyss. Bad as pagan Rome was, it would be exaggeration to affirm that it ever had come out of the bottomless pit. When the apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, he particularly specified the then duty of absolute subjection on the part of Christians to the powers then existing. Of course the application to the Roman empire would be immediate in the mind of any Christian at Rome. No one doubted the character of the emperor; there never had been a worse. Yet God took this very opportunity to lay it en the Christians as their duty to the worldly authority outside and over them. It was ruled generally that the worldly powers were ordained of God. But it is a very different thing to emerge from the abyss.
For there is a time coming when power will cease to be ordained of God. This is the point to which the last phase of the Beast refers. God in His providence did sanction the world-empires of old; and the principle continues as long as the church is here below. Hence we have to own the divine source of government, even when its holders abandon or have revoked all such thoughts themselves, but perhaps regard their rule in the world as a thing flowing from the people irrespectively of God. But the day is at hand when Satan will be allowed to have things his own way. For a short time (what a mercy that it is to be only so!) Satan will bring forth an empire suited to his purposes; as it will work on human self-will and the unbelief which denies God and Hi'; truth. It will be not only apostate but openly claiming to be God, and excluding the true God. But if thus it comes up out of the abyss, it is to go into perdition. It is added, "and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose name is not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that it was, and it is not and it shall be present." "Yet is" is an unfortunate expression, but it is the fault of the bad Greek text of Erasmus, Stephens, etc. It should be, "and shall be present."* There is no thought of making such a paradox to perplex the mind. The true reading here is neither hard nor doubtful save to unbelief. There is no conundrum in the message whatever. It is all plain and simple reference to the Beast "that it was, and it is not, and it shall be present."
* Even the Complutensian editors gave the right text here; and it would seem that Erasmus failed to use his MS. aright. For according to unquestionable testimony the Reuchlinian copy has καὶ πάρεστι like some half-dozen cursives, which was probably a mistake for πάρεσται. But καίπρε ἐστίν was unmitigated error.
No wonder that the earthly-minded wonder; for all this will be a great reversal of man's history and political maxims. There never has been a like experience. What mighty empire has existed, then become extinct, and finally reappeared, with higher pretensions and peculiar power, only to perish with unexampled horrors? It is altogether foreign to history. One of the most approved axioms is that kingdoms are just like men in this respect, that they begin, rise, and fall. As man does not believe in the resurrection of man, it is no wonder that he does not look for the resurrection of the empire. The marked difference is that in a dead man's case it is God who raises him, whereas for the defunct empire not God but the devil will revive it again. Beyond controversy it is so unusual and abnormal a reappearance that it is altogether exceptional in the world's history. Accordingly the resuscitated Roman empire will carry men away by a storm of wonder at its revival. Little do they know, because they believe not what is here written, that it is to come out of the abyss. That is, Satan will be the spring of its final rise and strange energy; he, and not God in any way whatever, will give it its character; as also he gives it his power and his throne and great authority.
"Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there (or, they) are seven kings." The double force of the symbol has been already touched on. "The five are fallen, the one is, the other did not yet come." That is, the sixth head (reigning in that day) was the imperial form of government. Can anything of the sort be plainer? It is a time-note of signal value. The seventh should follow for a little; and the seventh was in one respect to be an eighth. "And the beast which was, and is not, even he is an eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction." If in one sense an eighth, in another sense it would be of the seven; "eighth" perhaps, because of its extraordinary resurrection character, yet "one of the seven" because it is outwardly a head of rule again. This explains the wounded head that was afterwards healed. It is of the seven in that point of view, because it is old imperialism; but it is an eighth, because it has a diabolical source and strangely new character when raised up again. There never had been anything of the kind before.
"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which received no kingdom yet; but they receive authority as kings (not at, but for) one hour with the beast." They are all to reign concurrently with the Beast. This also is a no less important element for understanding the chapter. All who have looked back on the history know that when the ten kings appeared there was no real Beast or imperial power. It was the destruction of the imperial unity of Rome that gave occasion for the well-known kingdoms (ten, less or more) which the Gothic and other barbarians set up afterwards. We know that sometimes shore were nine or less, sometimes eleven or more; but supposing all this perfectly clear and true according to history, they did not receive their power as kings for one and the same time with the Beast.
The very reverse is the undeniable fact. They received their power as kings when the Beast ceased to exist. Thus the difference is complete between past history (if we look at the extinction of the empire and the rise of the divided kingdoms) and the certain fulfilment of the prophecy in the future, when we believe what God has really told us. The language is neither difficult nor ambiguous. Man alone is to blame who has misapplied it. Yet one allows freely a partial application already. We can quite understand that God would comfort His people in the dark ages by this book; and a very imperfect glimpse at its real meaning might in His grace serve to cheer them on in their trials as far as it went. From Rome saints had suffered; and it was easy to see that the revealed persecutress is called Babylon, but identified with the governing city of Rome. So far they were right. Nor is there any rem reason to wonder at their deriving help from partial light. It was but an imperfect view they had even of justification; a far scantier perception, if they could be said to have had any, about Christ's headship of the church, His priesthood, or almost anything else. And how little a glimpse had they of prophecy! But we can understand that the Lord could and did make that little go far, and do no little good.
But is there any reason why we should content ourselves with the measure enjoyed of old? Such is the hard bondage which historical tradition imposes on its votaries. Holding on to what others knew before them or little more, they reduce themselves to a minimum of the truth. When God is gracious, His word rich, full, and deep, is it not sad to see His children satisfied with just enough to save their souls, or keep them from positive starvation? In presence of grace surely this is not for His glory, any more than for their own blessing. The only right principle in everything is to go to the sources and streams of divine truth, there to seek refreshment and strength and fitness for whatever our God calls us to. Unquestionably He has been of late awakening the attention of His children remarkably to the value of His word, and not least of all to the portion we are now examining.
It is plain that the verse contemplates a new state of things in the future, and neither the Roman power when there was one head of empire, nor the eastern or Byzantine part of it after that partition, still less in the west the state of division under the kings who succeeded the deposition of Augustulus. In the mediaeval state there may have been ten kings (in contrast with the ancient state of the Beast without them), but no Beast or imperial system with its subordinate chiefs or vassal kings. This is what drove men to the idea of making the pope to be the Beast. But the idea is wholly insufficient to cover or meet the word of God, which gives clear and strong reasons to prove the mistake of applying this to the pope as its complete meaning or fulfilment. For that which comes distinctly before us in this one verse is the twofold fact that the ten horns here contemplated receive their kingly power for the same hour or time as the Beast, not subsequently when his rule was extinguished. He on the contrary receives his power and they receive theirs for one and the same time. They are contemporaneous.
This disposes of many a web of comments; for we find at once what is simple enough for any child of God who believes this to be God's word for us to understand. Bringing in history has embroiled the subject; and those who appeal most to its evidence are the men who seem in this to ignore plain facts. But the most ordinary knowledge suffices; for who does not know from the Bible that there was a Roman empire when Christ was born, ruled by Caesar Augustus, and no such state as that empire divided into ten kingdoms? Of course there must needs be a consultation with the kings, when the kings become an accredited part of that empire, as rulers subordinate to the Beast. But then it was an absolute decree that went forth, and this indisputably from a single head of the undivided empire. Centuries after came in, not only the division into cast and west, but the broken up state of the west, when there ceased to be an imperial head. But the prophecy points to the Beast revived and the ten subject kings reigning over its western breadth for the same time, before divine judgment destroys them all at the coming of Christ and of His saints with Him. Hence this certainly must be future.
Now this precisely fits in, let me say, with the state of feeling in these modern times; for "constitutionalism," as men call it, is the fruit of the Teutonic system supervening on that of the broken up Roman empire. It was the barbarians who brought in the prevalent ideas of feudalism and of liberty. Accordingly they have firmly stood for freedom; so that all efforts to reconstitute the empire which have been tried over and over again have hitherto issued in total failure. The great reason is manifest: there is a hindrance - "one that letteth." It cannot be done till the moment comes. When its own season arrives, as it surely will, the divine hinderer is to be "out of the way," and the devil is then allowed to do his worst. The political side of this is described here with surprising brightness and brevity. The ten horns with the Beast are all to receive authority, the Beast of course wielding the imperial power, they as kings reigning, all during one and the same time before the end comes. Clearly therefore it is future. It is impossible to refer it to the past with any show even of reasonable probability, to say nothing of reality or truth. Scripture and facts refute all such theories.
"These have one mind, and give their own power and authority to the beast." Hitherto the reverse of this has been verified in history. The horns have constantly opposed each other, and even sometimes the pope. Since then the world has not seen the imperial power to which all bow. Have we not all heard of "the balance of power"? This is what nations have been constantly occupied with, lest any one power should become the Beast. If some few have joined on one side, some are sure to help the other; because they are jealous of any one acquiring such a preponderant authority and power as to govern the rest. But in the time really contemplated all this political shuffling will be over. Then when Satan's success seems complete, the Lord has His word to say. "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, called, and chosen, and faithful." His saints, already on high, come with Him. It is the second act of His coming.
But still we have more to hear of Babylon yet. Her part in the corruption of the high and the intoxication of the low - her idolatrous character - has come before us. We have seen her misguidance of the Beast; but a collision comes. The woman had been allowed to ride the Beast, to influence and govern the empire first. But the friendships of the bad, as the Stagirite felt, do not last. At last she becomes the object of hatred to the ten horns and the Beast, who expose, rob, and destroy her. "And he saith to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and crowds, and nations, and tongues; and the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire. For God gave to their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman which thou sawest is the great city which hath kingship over the kings of the earth." "The waters" indicate her influence stretching out far beyond the empire. It is a sad fact, and the words a true prediction.
The Gothic hordes were not yet incorporated with the empire, still less were they horns of the Beast, nor did they give their power to it but rather destroyed it. They broke up the Beast yet more than Babylon. Past history therefore in no way suits the prophecy. "And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast." Here we must say that our Authorised Version, and not merely it but the common uncritical Greek Testaments, are quite astray. This is known so well, and on such decided grounds, that it would be unbecoming to withhold the fact. There is no uncertainty whatever in the case. It is certain that we ought to rend (not "upon" but) "and* the beast" - a difference of great importance The horns and the Beast join in hating the harlot. Not only are they supposed to be co-existent, but united in their change of feeling against Babylon. "These shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire."
* It now appears that the Cod. Reuchlin. Capnionis, which was used by Erasmus, and lately discovered after a long obscurity by Dr. Franz Delitzsch, reads καὶ (not ἐπὶ) τὸ θ. as did the Complut. Polyglott, and all editions of the least critical value. Scholz's note ("rec. cum cdd. pl.") is a myth. Who can cite MSS. in its favour, though some versions represent it?
It is not the gospel nor the Holy Spirit, but the lawless revived Latin empire with its vassal kingdoms of the west, which combine to destroy Babylon. Unhallowed love will end in bitter hate. They will then treat her with contempt and shameful exposure. Next they will seize her resources. Finally they will destroy her. Can anything be less reasonable than that the various rulers of the western powers, catholic kings, join the pope in destroying his own city, or his own church, whichever Babylon may be made? Some evade the difficulty by referring the desolation to the Gothic powers; and these pious Protestants, as if they were mere Praeterists! What confusion! Is there not reason enough for saying that not even the shadow of solid ground appears for the system, when it denies the future crisis?
Hence the effort of some to prop up a manifestly false reading. It is due to the exigency of a notion which fears and is irreconcilable with the truth in this place. "The ten horns which thou sawest AND the beast" gives unquestionably the right sense of the verse. But it disproves the Protestant historicalism which refuses to allow an evil to come worse even than popery.
Thus everything implies their simultaneous presence for the same time and for common action with the Beast, in plundering and then destroying Babylon. God uses them for this object, their at length setting her aside, the great religious corruptress, whose centre is found at Rome. We can easily understand that the overthrow of the ecclesiastical power is necessary to leave a field unimpeded for the imperial power to develop itself in its final form of apostasy, blasphemy, and rebellion against the Lord. For religion, be it ever so corrupt, acts as a restraint on human will, as an ordinary government does, however evil. Even the worst of governments is better than none. That a corrupt religion is better than none, one does not say: but it may trouble men, putting a thorn in the side of those who want no religion at all. Hence the horns and the Beast join together and desolate the harlot. That kings had dallied with her, that the Beast had once borne her up, will only turn to gall the more bitter for her, who, faithless to God, had staked the usurped and abused name of Christ to Will worldly power and glory now lost for ever. "For God gave to their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." It is a time of strong delusion, be it remembered.
"And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city which hath kingship over the kings of the earth." None but Rome corresponds. "The woman" is the more general symbol designating her as the great imperial city; "the harlot" is her corrupt religious character, embracing papal Rome but extending to the apostate days of the Beast and the Antichrist.
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.
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.
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 upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
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 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.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
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 the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
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.
These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
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.
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
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.
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.
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.