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.
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.