17:7-14 The beast on which the woman sat was, and is not, and yet is. It was a seat of idolatry and persecution, and is not; not in the ancient form, which was pagan: yet it is; it is truly the seat of idolatry and tyranny, though of another sort and form. It would deceive into stupid and blind submission all the inhabitants of the earth within its influence, except the remnant of the elect. This beast was seven heads, seven mountains, the seven hills on which Rome stands; and seven kings, seven sorts of government. Five were gone by when this prophecy was written; one was then in being; the other was yet to come. This beast, directed by the papacy, makes an eighth governor, and sets up idolatry again. It had ten horns, which are said to be ten kings who had as yet no kingdoms; they should not rise up till the Roman empire was broken; but should for a time be very zealous in her interest. Christ must reign till all enemies be put under his feet. The reason of the victory is, that he is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He has supreme dominion and power over all things; all the powers of earth and hell are subject to his control. His followers are called to this warfare, are fitted for it, and will be faithful in it.
I wondered with great admiration—As the Greek is the same in the verb and the noun, translate the latter "wonder." John certainly did not admire her in the modern English sense. Elsewhere (Re 17:8; 13:3), all the earthly-minded ("they that dwell on the earth") wonder in admiration of the beast. Here only is John's wonder called forth; not the beast, but the woman sunken into the harlot, the Church become a world-loving apostate, moves his sorrowful astonishment at so awful a change. That the world should be beastly is natural, but that the faithful bride should become the whore is monstrous, and excites the same amazement in him as the same awful change in Israel excited in Isaiah and Jeremiah. "Horrible thing" in them answers to "abominations" here. "Corruptio optimi pessima"; when the Church falls, she sinks lower than the godless world, in proportion as her right place is higher than the world. It is striking that in Re 17:3, "woman" has not the article, "the woman," as if she had been before mentioned: for though identical in one sense with the woman, Re 12:1-6, in another sense she is not. The elect are never perverted into apostates, and still remain as the true woman invisibly contained in the harlot; yet Christendom regarded as the woman has apostatized from its first faith.