Revelation Chapter 16 | Table of Contents | Revelation Chapter 18

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Revelation Chapter 17

A World Union Of Church and State

      Verse 1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
      In verse 19 of the preceding chapter, we are informed that “great Babylon came in remembrance before God to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.” The prophet now takes up more particularly the subject of this great Babylon. In order to give a full presentation of it, he goes back to recount some of the facts of her history. That this apostate woman as presented in this chapter is a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church, is generally believed by Protestants. Between this church and the kings of the earth there has been illicit connection. With the wine of her fornication, her false doctrines, the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk.
      Church and State. —This prophecy is more definite than others applicable to the Roman power in that it distinguishes between church and state. We have here the woman, the church, seated upon a scarlet-colored beast, the civil power, by which she is upheld, and which she controls and guides to her own ends, as a rider controls the animal upon which he is seated.
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      The vesture and decorations of this woman, as brought to view in verse 4, are in striking harmony with the application made of this symbol. Purple and scarlet are the chief colors in the robes of popes and cardinals. Among the myriads of precious stones which adorn her service, according to eyewitnesses, silver is scarcely known, and gold itself is less noticeable than are costly gems. From the golden cup in her hand —symbol of purity of doctrine and profession, which should have contained only that which is unadulterated and pure, or only that which is in full accordance with truth— there came forth only abominations, and the wine of her fornication, fit symbol of her abominable doctrines and still more abominable practices.
      The symbol of a woman with a cup in her hand is said to have been used at a papal jubilee.
      “In 1825, on the occasion of the jubilee, Pope Leo XII struck a medal, bearing on the one side his own image, and on the other, that of the Church of Rome symbolized as a ‘Woman,’ holding in her left hand a cross and in her right a cup, with the legend around her, Sede super universum, ‘The whole world is her seat.’” [1]
      This woman is explicitly called Babylon. Is Rome, then, Babylon, to the exclusion of all other religious bodies? —No, she cannot be, from the fact that she is called the mother of harlots as already noticed, which shows that there are other independent religious organizations that constitute the apostate daughters, and belong to the same great family.

      Verse 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. 7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
      A Cause of Wonder. —Why should John “wonder with great wonder,” as it reads in the original, when he saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints? Was the persecution of the
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people of God any strange in his day? Had he not seen Rome launch its most fiery anathemas against the church, himself being in banishment under its cruel power at the time he wrote? Why, then, should he be astonished, as he looked forward, and saw Rome still persecuting the saints? The secret of his wonder was this: All the persecution he had witnessed had been from pagan Rome, the open enemy of Christ. It was not strange that pagans should persecute Christ’s followers. But when he looked forward and saw a church professedly Christian persecuting the followers of the Lamb, and drunk with their blood, he could but wonder with great amazement.

      Verse 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
      Rome in Three Phases. —The beast of which the angel here speaks is evidently the scarlet-colored beast. A wild beast, like the one thus introduced, is the symbol of an oppressive and persecuting power. While the Roman power as a nation had a long, interrupted existence, it passed through certain phases during which this symbol would not be applicable to it, and during which time the beast, in such prophecies as the present, might be said not to be, or not to exist. Thus Rome in its pagan form was a persecuting power in its relation to the people of God, during which time it constituted the beast that was. But when the empire was nominally converted to Christianity, there was a transition from paganism to another phase of religion falsely called Christian. During a brief period, while this transition was going on, it lost its ferocious and persecuting character, and then it could be said of the beast that it was not. As time passed, it developed into the papacy, and
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again assumed its bloodthirsty and oppressive character.
      The Seven Heads. —The seven heads are explained to be first, seven mountains, and then seven kings. The expression in verse 10, “and there are seven kings,” reads in the original, “and are seven kings.” This makes the sentence read: “The seven heads are seven mountains . . . and are seven kings,” thus identifying heads, mountains, and kings.
      The angel says further, “five [kings] are fallen,” or passed away. Again he says, “one [king] is”— the sixth was then reigning. “The other is not yet come; and when he cometh he must continue a short space.” Last of all, “the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven.”
      From this account of the seven kings, we understand that when the one that had “not yet come” at the time of which John was writing, appears on the scene, he is here called an eighth, though he is really “of the seven,” in the sense that he absorbed and exercised their power. It is this one whose career we are interested to follow. Of this one it is said that his destiny was to go “into perdition,” that is, to perish utterly. This repeats the affirmation made in verse 8 concerning “the beast that thou sawest,” which in turn is the “scarlet colored beast,” on which the woman sat. We have shown that this beast symbolizes civil power, which according to the narrative before us, passes through seven phases represented also in the leopard beast of Revelation 13, until an eighth appears and continues to the end. Since we have already shown that papal Rome grew out of and succeeded pagan Rome, we must conclude that the eighth head, which was of the seven and ultimately exercised their power, represents the papacy, with all its mixture of so-called Christian doctrines with pagan superstitions and observances.

      Verse 12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. 14 These shall make war
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with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
      The Ten Horns. —On this subject see remarks on Daniel 7:7,where the ten horns are shown to represent the ten kingdoms that rose outof the Roman Empire. They receive power one hour ({Greek- w%ra} hora, an indefinite space of time) with the beast. That is, they reign a length of time contemporaneously with the beast, during which time they give to it their power and strength.
      Croly offers this comment on verse 12: “The prediction defines the epoch of the papacy by the formation of the ten kingdoms of the Western Empire. “They shall receive power one hour with the beast.’ The translation should be, ‘in the same era ({Greek- mivan w%ran} [mian horan]). The ten kingdoms shall be contemporaneous in contradistinction to the ‘seven heads,’ which were successive.” [2]
      This language doubtless refers to the past, when the kingdoms of Europe were unanimous in giving their support to the papacy. The treatment which these kingdoms are finally to give the papacy is expressed in verse 16, where it is said that they shall hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. A part of this work the nations of Europe have been doing for years. The completion of it, burning her with fire, will be accomplished when Revelation 18:8 is fulfilled.
      “These shall make war with the Lamb.” Verse 14. Here we are carried into the future, to the time of the great and final battle, for at this time the Lamb bears the title King of kings and Lords of lords, a title which He assumes when He ceases His intercessory priesthood at the close of probation. (Revelation 19:11-16.)

      Verse 15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and
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naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
      Destiny of the Harlot. —In verse 15 we have a plain definition of the Scripture symbol of waters; they denote peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. The angel told John, while calling his attention to this subject, that he would show him the judgment of this great harlot. In verse 16 that judgment is specified. This chapter has naturally more especial referenda to the mother, or Catholic Babylon. The next chapter, if we mistake not, deals with the character and destiny of another great branch of Babylon, the harlot daughters.

      [1] Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 6.
      [2] George Croly, The Apocalypse of St. John, p. 264, 265.

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