Revelation 17:4
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:
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(4) And the woman was arrayed . . .—Better, arrayed (or, clad) in purple (the colour of the robe which was in mockery put on our Lord—John 19:2) and scarlet, gilded (not “decked”) with gold, &c. Her appearance is one of imperial splendour. (Comp. the description of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:13.)

Having a golden cup in her hand . . .—Translate, Having a golden cup in her hand teeming with abominations and with the unclean things of the fornication of the earth. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:7) called Babylon a “golden cup in the hand of the Lord.” The cup had made all the earth drunken; the cup of intoxication, splendid and attractive, was full of an evil power, which robbed men’s senses and degraded them. The great city of the world ever holds out such a glittering cup, which

“Most do taste through fond intemperate desire.

Soon as the potion works, their human countenance,

Th’ express resemblance of the gods, is changed

Into some brutish form. . . . . . .

—Comus, 68-77.

Revelation 17:4-5. And the woman was arrayed — With the utmost pomp and magnificence; in purple and scarlet — Which were the colours of the imperial habit, — the purple in times of peace, and the scarlet in times of war: and the scarlet is the colour of the popes and cardinals, as it used to be that of the Roman emperors and senators. Nay, the mules and horses which carry the popes and cardinals are covered with scarlet cloth, so that they may properly be said to ride upon a scarlet-coloured beast. The woman is also decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls — And who can sufficiently describe the pride, and grandeur, and magnificence of the Church of Rome in her vestments and ornaments of all kinds? One remarkable instance of this we have in Paul II., whose mitre was set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, chrysolites, jaspers, and all kinds of precious stones: and another conspicuous instance is in the lady of Loretto; the riches of whose holy image, and house, and treasury are far beyond the reach of description. There silver can hardly find an admission, and gold itself looks but poorly among such an incredible number of precious stones. Moreover, the woman, like other harlots, who give filters and love-potions to inflame their lovers, hath a golden cup in her hand, like the ancient Babylon, Jeremiah 51:7, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication — Signifying the specious and alluring arts wherewith she bewitches and incites men to idolatry, which is an abomination, and spiritual fornication, and to many other abominable doctrines as well as practices. And upon her forehead a name written — Whereas the saints have the name of God and the Lamb on their foreheads. The allusion here seems to be to the practice of some notorious prostitutes, who had their names written in a label upon their foreheads, as we may collect from ancient authors; (see Seneca, Book 1. contr. 2; Juvenal, Sat. 6. lin. 122;) MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT — This name mystery can imply no less than that she dealeth in mysteries; her religion is a mystery, — a mystery of iniquity; and she herself is mystically Babylon the Great. Benedict XIII., in his proclamation of the jubilee, A.D. 1725, explains this sufficiently. His words are, “To this holy city, famous for the memory of so many holy martyrs, run with religious alacrity! Hasten to the place which the Lord hath chosen. Ascend to this new Jerusalem, whence the law of the Lord, and the light of evangelical truth, hath flowed forth into all nations, from the very first beginning of the church: the city most rightfully called The Palace; placed for the pride of all ages; the city of the Lord; the Sion of the Holy One of Israel. This catholic and apostolical Roman Church is the head of the world, the mother of all believers, the faithful interpreter of God, and mistress of all churches.” But God varies the style: he terms her the mother of harlots — The parent, ring-leader, patroness, and nourisher of many daughters, that closely copy after her; and abominations — Of every kind, spiritual and fleshly; of the earth — In all lands. In this respect she is indeed catholic, or universal.

The Papists would fain persuade us that pagan Rome is here intended: but, as Bishop Newton justly observes, “The title of mystery is in no respect proper to her more than any other city, and neither is there any mystery in substituting one heathen, idolatrous, and persecuting city for another; but it is indeed a mystery that a city, called Christian, professing and boasting herself to be the city of God, should prove another Babylon in idolatry and cruelty to the people of God. She glories in the name of Roman Catholic, and well therefore may she be called, Babylon the Great. She affects the style and title of our holy mother the church, but she is in truth the mother of fornications and abominations. Neither can this character, with any propriety, be applied to ancient Rome, for she was rather a learner of foreign superstitions than the mistress of idolatry to other nations; as appears in various instances, and particularly from that solemn form of adjuration which the Romans used when they laid siege to a city, calling forth the tutelary deities of the place, and promising them temples, and sacrifices, and other solemnities at Rome. It may be concluded, therefore, that this part of the prophecy is sufficiently fulfilled, though there should be reason to question the truth of what is asserted by some writers, that the word MYSTERY was formerly written in letters of gold upon the forepart of the pope’s mitre. Scaliger affirms it upon the authority of the duke de Montmorency: Francis le Moyne and Brocardus confirm it, appealing to ocular inspection: and when King James objected this, Lessius could not deny it. If the thing be true, it is a wonderful coincidence of the event with the letter of prophecy. It is, however, much more certain, and none of that communion can deny it, that the ancient mitres were usually adorned with inscriptions.

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.And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour - On the nature of the scarlet color, see the notes on Revelation 17:3. The purple color - πορφύρα porphura - was obtained from a species of shellfish found on the coasts of the Mediterranean, which yielded a reddish-purple dye, much prized by the ancients. Robes dyed in that color were commonly worn by persons of rank and wealth, Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20; Luke 16:19. The purple color contains more blue than the crimson, though the limits are not very accurately defined, and the words are sometimes interchanged. Thus the mock robe put on the Saviour is called in Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20, πορφύραν porphuran - "purple," and in Matthew 27:28, κοκκίνην kokkinēn - "crimson." On the applicability of this to the papacy, see the notes on Revelation 17:3.

And decked with gold - After the manner of an harlot, with rich jewelry.

And precious stones - Sparkling diamonds, etc.

And pearls - Also a much-valued female ornament. Compare the notes on Matthew 7:6; Matthew 13:46.

Having a golden cup in her hand - As if to entice lovers. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.

Full of abominations - Of abominable things; of things suited to excite abhorrence and disgust; things unlawful and forbidden. The word, in the Scriptures, is commonly used to denote the impurities and abominations of idolatry. See the notes on Daniel 9:27. The meaning here is, that it seemed to be a cup filled with wine, but it was in fact a cup full of all abominable drugs, leading to all kinds of corruption. How much in accordance this is with the fascinations of the papacy, it is not necessary now to say, after the ample illustrations of the same thing already furnished in these notes.

And filthiness of her fornication - The image here is that of papal Rome, represented as an abandoned woman in gorgeous attire, alluring by her arts the nations of the earth, and seducing them into all kinds of pollution and abomination. It is a most remarkable fact that the papacy, as if designing to furnish a fulfillment of this prophecy, has chosen to represent itself almost precisely in this manner - as a female extending an alluring cup to passers by - as will be seen by the engraving on this page. Far as the design of striking this medal may have been from confirming this portion of the Book of Revelation, yet no one can fail to see that if this had been the design, no more happy illustration could have been adopted. Apostate churches, and guilty nations, often furnish the very proofs necessary to confirm the truth of the Scriptures.

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.

decked—literally, "gilded."

stones—Greek, "stone."

filthiness—A, B, and Andreas read, "the filthy (impure) things."

And the woman was arrayed in a purple and scarlet colour; purple was the colour of kings and princes: this woman, Revelation 18:7, said she was queen.

Scarlet also was a rich and noble colour, anciently most used in a time of war. How much it is in use with the pope and his cardinals, is sufficiently known.

And decked with gold and precious stones and pearls; this shows the worldly riches of the papacy.

Having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; alluring and tempting persons to idolatry, as whores use to do with their philters, or enchanted cups, allure and provoke men to sensual satisfactions.

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour,.... Which may be expressive of her grandeur, authority, and power, sitting as a queen, and sovereign in the empire, ruling over kingdoms and nations in it; and also of her bloody disposition to the saints, with whose blood she is afterwards said to be drunk;

and decked with gold and precious stones, and pearls; which may denote her hypocrisy, she being gilded with these things, as the word signifies, when she was inwardly rotten, corrupt, and filthy; and may point out the things by which persons have been enticed into the communion of the church of Rome, and to comply with her idolatrous worship and practices; and may also respect the prodigious riches, which have, by various methods, been brought into the pope's coffers; these, with other things, are reckoned among the merchandise of Babylon, Revelation 18:12 and particularly this may have reference to the adorning of their temples, or churches, and the decking of their images, with those things; which gaudy pompous shows strike the minds of carnal men, amuse them, and engage their attention. So Philo (k) the Jew describes an whore as arrayed in purple, and adorned with gold and precious stones; see Proverbs 7:10.

Having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; in allusion to Babylon, Jeremiah 51:7 and also to harlots, who give philters or love potions to men, to excite lust, and draw their affections to them; and this being a golden cup may design the external lustre and splendour of the worship of the church of Rome, by which many have been drawn into a compliance with it, which is attended with many abominable, filthy, and idolatrous practices: and perhaps some regard may be had to the golden chalice, in which, it is pretended, is the very blood of Christ, which the priests take as such, and worship and adore, and is no other than an abominable and filthy piece of idolatry; and such are the persons that partake of it; like the Pharisees of old, they make clean the outside of the cup and platter; glister, and make a great show of devotion, but within are full of extortion and excess.

(k) De Mercede Meretricis non recip. p. 861.

And {4} the woman was arrayed {5} in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having {6} a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

(4) That harlot, the spiritual Babylon, which is Rome. She is described by her attire, profession, and deeds.

(5) In attire most glorious, triumphant, most rich, and most gorgeous.

(6) In profession the nourisher of all, in this verse and teaching her mysteries to all, Re 17:5 setting forth all things most magnificently: but indeed fatally besetting miserable men with her cup, and brings upon them a deadly giddiness.

Revelation 17:4. κεχρυς. goes by an awkward zeugma with λίθῳ (collective) καὶ μαργαρίταις; “with ornaments of gold and precious stones and pearls” (like Ezekiel’s doomed prince of Tyre). The harlot in Test. Jud. 13:5 was also decked ἐν χρυσίῳ καὶ μαργαρίταις and poured out wine for her victims. Rome is pronounced luxurious, licentious and loathsome. Here, as in the contemporary 4 Esd. 3:2, 29, it is felt to be a mystery that prosperity and permanence should belong to a state flaunting its impiety and oppression, not merely enjoying but propagating vice.

4. arrayed in purple and scarlet colour] Protestant interpreters have been fond of applying this description to the robes of Roman bishops and cardinals: and perhaps not altogether unjustly. See Introduction, pp. 57, 58.

decked with gold] Lit. gilded with gold: perhaps illustrated by the contemporary picture of the historical imperial harlot, Messalina.

precious stone] Lit. stone, used, of course, collectively. See on Revelation 15:6.

a golden cup] See Jeremiah 51:7 already quoted. We can hardly say that the cup serves her to drink the blood of saints and martyrs (Revelation 17:6), but it is meant to suggest that she is drunken and invites to drunkenness, as well as to uncleanness.

Verse 4. - And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour. These words, taken in connection with those that follow, seem to signify the worldly magnificence which may be the portion of the faithless Christian. Some writers see an allusion to the purple robe of Christ. (On the meaning of "scarlet," see on ver. 3.) And decked with gold and precious stones and pearls; gilded with, etc. Similar descriptions are given in Ezekiel 16:13 and Ezekiel 28:13. Compare the description in Revelation 21:11. This account is sufficiently characteristic of the world's attractions to need no comment. Having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; full of abominations, even the unclean things of, etc. (Revised Version), the Authorized Version reading being placed in the margin. Another reference to Jeremiah 51:7 (cf. also Revelation 14:10). Abominations are all things that are displeasing to God. (On "fornication," see on Revelation 14:8 and Revelation 17:1, 2; it signifies unfaithfulness towards God.) Revelation 17:4Purple (πορφύρουν)

See on Luke 16:19.

Decked (κεχρυσωμένη)

Lit., gilded.

Precious stones (λίθῳ τιμίῳ)

Lit., precious stone.

Golden cup

Compare Jeremiah 51:7.

Abominations (βδελυγμάτων)

See on Matthew 24:15.

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