"And the angel said to me, Why dost thou wonder? I will tell thee the secret of the woman, and of the wild beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The wild beast which thou didst see, was, and is not, and will ascend out of the abyss, and go into destruction; and those who dwell on the earth will wonder, (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,) as they behold the wild beast that was and is not, and will be. And here is the mind having wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth, and they are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh he must remain a little while. And the wild beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction. And the ten horns which thou didst see are ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom; but they receive power as kings, one hour, with the wild beast. These have one mind, and will give their power and strength to the wild beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and those with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." Rev.17:7-14.
"And he saith to me, The waters which thou didst see, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and crowds, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which thou didst see, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot, and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh, and burn her up with fire. For God hath put it into their hearts to perform his purpose, and to agree, and give their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman whom thou didst see is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." Rev.17:15-18.
That the woman and city symbolize the same, is shown by the declaration that she is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth, v.18. She is also thus indicated by the name of "Babylon," on her forehead, and the golden cup in her hand: "Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore are the nations mad," Jer.51:7. In like manner has the church of Rome intoxicated the nations.
"The scarlet-colored beast" on which the woman is seated, is evidently the same beast that John saw "rise out of the sea, having seven heads, and ten horns," 13:1. The Roman empire had been symbolized by "a great red dragon," which also had seven heads and ten horns. In that vision, crowns were on the heads of the beast, (12:3); which indicated that Rome, during the period thus represented, existed under the forms of government symbolized by the heads. These heads, the angel affirms, are the seven mountains on which the woman sitteth, (v.9); and also that they are seven kings (v.10), or forms of government. Mountains also symbolize governments, (16:20); and as the heads and mountains are the same, they must alike symbolize the seven forms of government under which Rome existed previous to its subversion by the northern barbarians, -- viz.: 1, the kingly; 2, consular; 3, dictatorial; 4, decemviral; 5, tribunitial; 6, pagan-imperial; and 7, Christian-imperial. At the time of the explanation of this vision to John, the "five" first-named forms had passed away; or, as the angel says, had "fallen," v.10. One then was: -- Rome then existed under its pagan-imperial, or sixth head. The other, the Christian-imperial, had not then come; but after it came, and had continued for a time, the Roman empire was subverted by the irruptions of northern barbarians. Thus "the beast was;" and then, was not for a season. But afterwards it emerged again from the sea (13:1), under an "eight" form, which was of the previous seven, 17:11. When it reaeppears, its crowns are not upon its heads, but encircle its horns, (13:1); indicating that those governments have the ascendency, which are symbolized by the "ten horns;" and which, according to the angel, are "ten kings," which had not received their kingdom at the time of the vision, v.12. These were to be kings in "one," or the same hour with the beast, and must therefore be contemporary kingdoms, while the forms symbolized by the heads, are evidently successive. They constitute the government of Rome, in its eighth, or decem-regal form; and symbolize the ten kingdoms which arose after and out of the subversion of imperial Rome. Under this form, the beast goes into perdition, (v.11): -- they continue under various combinations, till the end of the world, when they will war with and be overcome by the Lamb (v.14), in the great battle of Armageddon, 19:19-21.
The ten contemporary kingdoms have one mind, (v.13): they perpetuate the kingdom of the beast, by adopting similar laws, pursuing the same line of policy, and assuming the same powers that the empire exercised.
The "names of blasphemy" which cover the beast, symbolize its arrogating the right to dictate in matters of faith and religious worship, and to punish those who dissent from its creed. The Roman hierarchy was supported by legal enactments against heretics in all of the ten kingdoms. Those who dissented from the church were delivered over to the power of the civil arm, which punished by imprisonment, confiscation of goods, bodily torture, and death. The exercise of such power, was a blasphemous usurpation of the prerogatives of Christ, and an assumption of authority over the legislation of God.
On this beast the woman is seated. As its rider, she guides it, and is sustained by it. She is its directing power; and while she is thus seated, there is no reference to crowns encircling either heads or horns. All rule for a time is subservient to her control. Thus were the ten kingdoms obedient to the Roman hierarchy, -- sustaining, and being controlled by it. She crowned their kings, and dethroned them at her pleasure. The religion of the church was enforced by the sword of the state; and thus did the kings of the earth commit fornication with her, -- the idolatries of the church being sanctioned by them.
The superb attire of the woman, and the costly gems with which she is decked, denote the wealth, luxury, and regal splendor of the hierarchy which she symbolizes. The cup, and its abominations in her hand, denote the false doctrines with which she would seduce the nations. Her names describe her nature, and identify her with Babylon; and her intoxication with blood, indicates her blood-thirsty, persecuting character, and the delight with which she would exult over the slaughter of the saints.
The Roman hierarchy was not, however, always to retain her supremacy over the nations. She was in due time to fall from the position symbolized by the woman seated on the beast; and the kings of the earth were to hate and burn with fire, her whom they had recognized as their mistress, and to whose control they had submitted. The governments which have sustained her pretensions, were to cast her off contemptuously. This has been in progress of fulfilment from the days of Martin Luther, since which her control of the ten kingdoms has been only limited and partial. Many of her ecclesiastical estates have been confiscated, and she has been deprived of her prerogatives in many countries. There may, perhaps, be hereafter a more complete fulfilment of this prediction. It is symbolized in the following chapter, by: