Revelation 17:5
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(5) And upon her forehead . . .—It was usual with harlots to wear their name on the forehead; but the name here is more than a name. Like the name impressed upon the foreheads of the saints, it is “the expression of her nature”—


The word “mystery” is, perhaps, part of the name; it is, at any rate, a prefix which tells us that the name is not literal, but symbolical. Something lies behind, which will be made manifest in due time. (Comp. 2Thessalonians 2:7.) She is mother of harlots. Others, in smaller spheres, will follow her example; but she is the origin and type of all.

(6) And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints.—It is said later (Revelation 18:24) that in her was found the blood of prophets, and saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth. The cruel spirit of persecution marked old Pagan Rome. She was drunk with their blood. It is not literally true that “all the blood shed on the earth” would be found in Rome, either Pagan or Papal; but it is spiritually true. Just as all the blood from righteous Abel to Zacharias was required of Jerusalem, so also of Babylon; for the spirit is the same spirit of hatred of holiness and love of worldliness. To slay one is to slay all, as to be guilty in one point of the Law is to be guilty of all; for it is not to mere acts, but also to the spirit and drift of men’s conduct, that the Scriptures look. It is the Babylon spirit, whether dominant in Rome or in London, that kills the good. Wherever the spirit of worldliness (in its widest sense) is to be found, there is the spirit at enmity with God and good, and there is the Babylon which has slain the saints.

And when I saw her, I wondered . . .—Rather, And I wondered when I saw her with great wonder (not “admiration” in our modern sense). Why did St. John wonder? Was it at the splendour or the blasphemous names? Hardly these; for he was familiar with the former in descriptions of Babylon given by the prophets, and with the latter from his own vision in Revelation 13. The wonder probably rose from the strange alliance of the woman with the wild beast. It was not wonderful to see the vision of a wild beast or monster dealing out death and slaughter, but to see a woman allied with the monster and drunken with the blood of the holy provoked astonishment. The woman, too, was a harlot. The prophets had spoken of Israel and Judah as harlots, where they had allied themselves with the world and its dark idolatries (comp. Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Ezekiel 16:15; Hosea 2:5). Did he read in the form of the vision the hint that in the lapse of years the Church of Christ, like Israel of old, might fall from her high calling and become the ally of the world-power? The hint of it slumbered in the vision.

(7) And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel?—Better, Wherefore didst thou wonder? The angel explains the mystery or hidden meaning. In doing so he identifies the wild beast which carries the woman with the wild beast of Revelation 13. In that chapter the wild beast was seen wounded to death; the same thought is expressed in this chapter. The wild beast was and is not It has received its death wound: the dying and risen Lord has given the death-blow to the world-power, as He has cast down Satan (Revelation 12:9), put limits to his power (Revelation 20:2), and destroyed him that had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). In the victory of Christ the wild beast that was (i.e., that had in successive ages been seen in the great world-powers) is slain, or, as the angel expresses it, is not. But though he is not, though he is to be reckoned as doomed, yet he will show signs of vitality: he will rise into temporary power. He shall come up out of the abyss. But the march of his power is only a march to the grave. He goes to destruction. Yet this transient revival and apparent recovery from its death-wound will be viewed (as was said in Revelation 13:3 : “all the earth wondered after the wild beast”) as a marvel by those whose [??] are not heaven-taught, and whose minds are set upon earthly things. They that dwell upon the earth shall wonder, whose name is not written on the book of life from the foundation of the world, seeing the wild beast that he was, and is not, and shall be present (i.e., shall come again).

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 upon her forehead - In a circlet around her forehead. That is, it was made prominent and public, as if written on the forehead in blazing capitals. In Revelation 13:1 it is said that "the name of blasphemy" was written on the "heads" of the beast. The meaning in both places is substantially the same, that it was prominent, and unmistakable. See the notes on that verse. Compare the note on Revelation 14:1.

Was a name written - A title, or something that would properly indicate her character.

Mystery - It is proper to remark that there is nothing in the original as written by John, so far as now known, that corresponded with what is implied in placing this inscription in capital letters; and the same remark may be made of the "title" or inscription that was placed over the head of the Saviour on the cross, Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19. Our translators have adopted this form, apparently for the sole purpose of denoting that it was an inscription or title. On the meaning of the word "mystery," see the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:7. Compare the notes on 1 Timothy 3:16. Here it seems to be used to denote that there was something hidden, obscure, or enigmatical, under the title adopted; that is, the word "Babylon," and the word "mother," were symbolical. Our translators have printed and pointed the word "mystery" as if it were part of the inscription. It would probably be better to regard it as referring to the inscription, thus: "a name was written - a mysterious name, to wit, Babylon," etc. Or, "a name was written mysteriously." According to this, it would mean, not that there was any wonderful "mystery" about the thing itself, whatever might be true on that point, but that the name was enigmatical or symbolical; or that there was something hidden or concealed under the name. It was not to be literally understood.

Babylon the great - papal Rome, the nominal head of the Christian world, as Babylon had been of the pagan world. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.

The mother of harlots -

(a) Of that spiritual apostasy from God which, in the language of the prophets, might be called adultery. See the notes on Revelation 14:8.

(b) The promoter of lewdness by her institutions. See the notes on Revelation 9:21. In both these senses, there never was a more expressive or appropriate title than the one here employed.

And abominations of the earth - Abominable things that prevail on the earth, Revelation 17:4. Compare the notes on Revelation 9:20-21.

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 upon her forehead was a name written; as public harlots were wont to write their names, some upon the fronts of their houses, some upon their foreheads: it denotes the open guilt and impudence of this spiritual harlot.

Mystery; that is, there is a mystery in what follows in her name.

Babylon the great; not to be understood of the Chaldean Babylon, but of a city or polity under the gospel; as, Revelation 11:8, she was called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, so also in a spiritual or mystical sense she is called Babylon, because a city like to Babylon for idolatry and persecution of God’s Israel.

The mother of harlots; not it mere harlot but one that bred up harlots, and nursed up idolatry, communicating it to others. This is the true name of Rome instead of "holy mother church."

And abominations of the earth; a place in which not only idolatry reigneth, but all abominable things committed in the world; carnal whoredom tolerated by them, and sodomy, &c.

And upon her forehead was a name written,.... As the high priest had on his mitre upon his forehead written, holiness to the Lord, Exodus 28:36 only a different inscription from that; the allusion is thought to be to harlots, who not only used to put their names over their doors, but some of them upon their foreheads, that all might know who they were; of which Mr. Daubuz has given proofs out of Seneca, Martial, Juvenal, and Petronius; and such might be said to have an whore's forehead indeed: and this is expressive of the openness and impudence of the church of Rome, in her idolatrous worship; she openly declares it, and pleads for it, and invites and ensnares persons to join with her in it: the name follows,

mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth; her name is "mystery"; not the mystery of godliness, that she dislikes and opposes, but the mystery of iniquity; which is the name antichrist went by in the Apostle Paul's time, when he was but in embryo, 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Some reference may be had to the mystery of the Mass, in which the Papists pretend are the very body and blood of Christ; to their seven sacraments, for wherever almost they find the word mystery, they make a sacrament of that to which it is applied; and to their unwritten traditions, and the sense of the Scriptures, which are locked up in the pope's breast: and it is very remarkable what has been observed by some, that the word "mystery" was formerly upon the frontlet of the pope's mitre, and was removed by Pope Julius the Third, when it was observed that the Protestants made use of this passage of Scripture, and applied it to the Romish antichrist. Joseph Scaliger (l) affirms, that he saw mitres at Rome with this inscription on them. Though others think that this is not any part of the name, but only signifies that this woman was, in a mysterious or mystical sense, called Babylon, &c. just as the great city is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, Revelation 11:8 but to me it seems to be a part of the name, as well as what follows, "Babylon the great"; that is, the great city, Revelation 14:8 by which name the church of Rome may well be called, because of the signification of it, confusion, Genesis 11:9 its doctrine and worship being a confused mixture of Paganism, Judaism, and Christianity; and because of the pride and haughtiness of it, its tyranny and cruelty, and its sorceries and idolatry; see Isaiah 14:12.

And the mother of harlots, of all antichristian states and kingdoms; and is different from the heavenly Jerusalem, the Gospel church, which is the mother of true believers, Galatians 4:26 or the "mother of fornications": as some copies read, and the Vulgate Latin and eastern versions render it; that is, the author and encourager of them, as the church of Rome has been; of corporeal fornication, by commanding celibacy, and forbidding marriage to priests, and setting up of brothel houses; and of spiritual fornication or idolatry, everywhere required and encouraged by it: and of "the abominations of the earth"; of abominable doctrines and practices; all manner of wickedness that is to be found in the earth, as murder, adultery, sodomy, perjury, &c. these, with everything that is vile and wicked, are practised and connived at by her.

(l) In Scaligeran.


(7) Deceiving with the title of religion, and public inscription of mystery: which the beast in times past did not bear.

(8) An exposition: in which John declares what manner of woman this is.

Revelation 17:5. Roman filles de joie wore a label with their names thus (Juv. vi. 123). μυστήριον (which hardly belongs to the title itself) indicates that the name is to be taken πνευματικῶς (Revelation 11:8), not literally; “a name written which is a symbol,” or a mysteriously significant title.—μήτηρ κ.τ.λ., Rome, the natural focus of Oriental cults in general, is charged with fostering all the superstitious and vicious practices of her subjects.—βδελ. (partly justified by a perusal of Petronius and Apuleius) is an apt rebuke if it comes from the prophet of a religion which one Roman historian classed among the atrocia aut pudenda which disgraced the capital (Tacit. Ann. xv. 44).

5. upon her forehead was a name written] Probably not branded on the flesh, but tied on as a label, as Roman harlots actually did Wear their names.

Mystery] Interpreters compare “the mystery of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. The use of the word in Revelation 1:20 may illustrate its meaning here: it indicates that “Babylon the Great” is to be understood in a mystical sense.

of harlots] Rather, of the harlots. She is the chief of these, and the cause of the rest being what they are. Therefore, though the fornications of Babylon are to be understood spiritually, yet her guilt includes the actual licentiousness of the Rome of Nero and Domitian, and in a wider sense “the sin of great cities” generally.

Revelation 17:5. Ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ, κ.τ.λ., the great, the mother, etc.) Benedict XIII., above others, magnificently embellished the boastful name of Rome, in his Indiction for a universal jubilee, A. 1725. “To this holy city, illustrious with the memory of so many holy martyrs, and especially instructed in the doctrine of the blessed apostles, the princes of the Church, and hallowed with their glorious blood, flock together with religious eagerness of mind. Hasten to the place which the Lord hath chosen; ascend to this New Jerusalem, whence from the very beginning of the infant Church the law of the Lord and the light of evangelical truth has flowed forth to all nations. [Hasten to] a city honoured with so many and so great benefits, loaded with so many gifts, that it is most deservedly called the city of priests and kings, built for the pride of ages, the city of the Lord, the Sion of the Holy One of Israel. Here in truth make confession unto God in the great assembly, praise Him among much people. Inasmuch as this very Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, constituted the head of the world by the sacred seat of the blessed Peter, is the mother of all believers, the faithful interpreter of the Divinity, and the mistress of all churches. Here the unsullied deposit of the faith, here the fountain of sacerdotal unity, here the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the supreme power of binding and loosing, here, finally, that inexhaustible treasure of the sacred indulgences of the Church, of which the Roman Pontiff is the dispenser, is guarded.” But John, in accordance with truth, παραφράζει and explains this boastful title: Babylon, etc.

Verse 5. - And upon her forehead was a name written. Omit "was." Ὄνομα, "name," is dependent upon ἔχουσα, "having," in ver. 4. This practice was customary with harlots (Juv., 'Sat.,' 6:123; Seneca, 'Controv.,' 1:2). In Revelation 14:1 and Revelation 7:3 the faithful members of God's Church have his Name in their foreheads; here the faithless ones, represented by the harlot, exhibit a spurious imitation. As God's Name marked the former as his, so the name Babylon, etc., marks the latter as belonging to the world (see on Revelation 16:19; 17:5; 18:2). The name consists of the words following, to the end of the verse. MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. The word "MYSTERY" may be

(1) part of the name, standing coordinately with "BABYLON" (Alford, Bleek, Hengstenberg, Vitringa, Wordsworth);

(2) a description of the following title, being thus in apposition with ὅνομα, "name" (Auberlin, De Wette, Dusterdieck, Ebrard);

(3) an adverb used in the same sense as in the last case (Stuart). Whichever view be taken, there can be no doubt that the purpose is to draw attention to the fact which is contained in the following words - a fact which might otherwise be exceedingly difficult to receive. For the rest of the verso asserts that the harlot is Babylon; that is, that the worldly portion of the Church, though nominally Christian, is in reality identical with the world, which is openly antagonistic to God. Indeed, the latter portion of the verse goes even further than this. This faithless (though outwardly Christian) portion of Christ's Church is the mother, that is, the cause of the existence of unfaithfulness to God. So true is it that the professing Christian who is worldly minded does more to cause in others disobedience and unfaithfulness to God, than he who openly declares himself in opposition to God, and even persecutes the faithful; cf. the words to the Church in Laodicea, "I would thou went cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15). (On "ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH," see on ver. 4.) Revelation 17:5Upon her forehead a name

As was customary with harlots, who had their names inscribed on a ticket. Seneca, addressing a wanton priestess, "Nomen tuum pependit a fronte," thy name hung from thy forehead. See Juvenal, Satire vi., 123 sqq., of the profligate Messalina, "having falsely assumed the ticket of Lycisca."


Some understand this as a part of the name, others as implying that the name is to be interpreted symbolically.


See on 1 Peter 5:13. Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Jerome use Babylon as representing the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages Rome is frequently styled the Western Babylon. The sect of the Fraticelli, an eremitical organization from the Franciscans in the fourteenth century, who carried the vow of poverty to the extreme and taught that they were possessed of the Holy Spirit and exempt from sin - first familiarized the common mind with the notion that Rome was the Babylon, the great harlot of the Apocalypse (see Milligan, "Latin Christianity," Book xii., ch. vi.). On the passage cited from Dante (v. i.), Dean Plumptre remarks: "The words have the interest of being a medieval interpretation of Revelation 17:1-15, in which, however, the harlot and the beast seem somewhat strangely blended. The harlot is the corrupted Church of Rome; the seven heads are the seven hills on which the city is built; or perhaps, with an entirely different exegesis, the seven gifts of the Spirit, or the seven sacraments with which that Church had, in its outset, been endowed: the ten horns are the ten commandments. As long as the Church was faithful to her spouse, she had the moral strength which came from those gifts, and the divine law which she represented. When that failed, she became as a harlot, and her whoredom with kings was the symbol of her alliance with secular powers for the oppression of the nations" (On "Inferno," xix., 110).

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