Revelation 17

Revelation 17  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 8
BABYLON having come into remembrance before God in chapter 16:19, we have the description of her character, her relations, and her overthrow in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters. One great feature in the ways of Satan to dishonor God and to deceive men has been to counterfeit. For centuries past he has wrought to produce a corrupt imitation of the church, which is the bride, the Lamb's wife. This great system has been characterized by usurped authority and self-exaltation, conscienceless seizure of power, deceptive religious ordinances and moral corruption. Christ as Head has been displaced, the presence of the Holy Ghost ignored, the word of God made of none effect by human tradition. The professing church has been unfaithful to Christ, and has fallen into immoral alliance with the world. Having promoted infidelity through her own worldliness and wickedness, she will eventually, in the righteous dealings of God, fall before its power. (Rev. 17:15-1815And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17For 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. 18And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. (Revelation 17:15‑18).) Let us turn to the vision of her false glory and of her fall.
“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: 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." (Verses 1, 2.) As great Babylon comes into judgment in the course of the execution of the seventh plague, it is all in keeping that one of the seven angels charged with the carrying out of these terrible judgments should be employed to tell her sentence to the prophet. He invites John to him, talks to him, shows him the sentence, and who will be the instruments in carrying it out, and the manner of it. Whatever men may say and think of this great system, the angel, who knows the mind of heaven, calls it "the great harlot." She sits upon many waters. Verse 15 gives us clearly their signification. The kings of the earth are charged at once with illicit intercourse with her, and the inhabitants of (or they that dwell upon) the earth as intoxicated with her evil pleasures.
“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. 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 the abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." (Verses 3-5.) In dwelling upon this scripture, we would ask our readers to compare it with chapter 21:9-11. One brings before us the false professing church, and the other the true church. The contrast is most striking, and clearly, intentional.
John is carried away by the angel in spirit into the wilderness to see the false, and in the Spirit to a great and high mountain to see the true. A principle of importance to the Christian comes out here.
To discern the evil character of that which bears the name of Christ, but is false, that is, apostate Christendom, we must be in spirit apart from the world, in the wilderness, where all our springs and resources are in God. To discern the character of the true church we must be in the Spirit and behold it from the mountain's top, somewhat as Moses beheld the promised land from mount Pisgah. In both cases the angel says, "I will show thee," etc. But after that John says, "I saw a woman," etc. (chap. 17:3); and "he showed me... the holy Jerusalem," etc. (Chapter 21:10.) So also with us. We should see neither the one nor the other if it were not shown us. But in Spirit in the wilderness we see the evil, whereas when in the Spirit on the mountain top we shall need to be shown the true.
Next John sees the woman “sitting upon a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. (Ver. 3.) In chapter 21. the angel showed him "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." (Ver. 10.) The false church is supported by the blasphemous beast to which we have already referred. The seven heads and ten horns of which we have also spoken, and of which we shall say more presently, show clearly that it is the Roman Empire. The name written on the woman's forehead is "Babylon the great," etc. Hence we get the false church presented under the double figure of a woman and of a city. Likewise the true. The angel calls her "the bride, the Lamb's wife," and shows John "the holy city, Jerusalem." (Chapter 21:9,10.) Moreover, the false is called "the great," whereas the true is called "the holy." The word “great " is not in the original in chapter 21:10. The false is visibly carried by the beast, that is, external religion rules over the nations. She is also supported by evil and infidel and blasphemous political power. It embraces the evil union of the false church and state. The true is invisibly supported. Heavenly in her origin, divine in her source, she is sustained by the invisible and almighty power of God. The false is called, "Mystery, Babylon the great." The true is "the mystery," Jerusalem the holy. (Eph. 3; Rev. 21:9-119And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. 10And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; (Revelation 21:9‑11).) The false, through illicit intercourse with the kings of the world, is the "mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." The true is the pure chaste virgin, the bride that becomes the Lamb's wife. The false being riot only herself a harlot, but the mother of others, shows that one must get a broad view of her character in order to arrive at God's thought of what the figure embraces. Babylon in her full-blown character embraces apostate Christendom. The spiritual mind will not fail to perceive-at work to-day the elements which characterize Babylon, and will respond to the exhortation to come out of her, lest 'one should become partaker of her plagues. In the midst of the evil, there are many who belong to the true church, who sigh and cry on account of these things. God knows everyone. But, alas, that any should sanction in any way the awful religious corruption of Christendom! Babylon, confusion the great, is also the mother of the abominations (or idolatries) of the earth. Strange anomaly, extraordinary blindness, that Christendom should so look down upon the idolatry of heathendom and yet fill her so-called churches and adorn her ecclesiastical buildings with images and pictures and worship before them. Even the followers of the false prophet Mohammed put Christendom to shame in this.
Further, "the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" (ver. 4), whereas the light,(or shining) of the bride was like a most precious stone (so), as a crystal-like jasper stone. (Chapter 21:11) The false is arrayed in imperial and kingly raiment and glory, and decked with all that is most valuable in the eyes of men; the true shines with the reflection of the glory of Christ. Who but He could be called "a most precious stone"? And the shining of the city is like it, as a crystal-like jasper stone.
Again, the false woman has a golden cup in her hand full of abominations, whereas the true has the glory of God.
The awful brand which this false system bears upon her forehead is manifest before all. It is called "mystery," or secret. But it is only those whose hearts are deceived, and whose minds are blinded by the god of this world, who are duped by it. Those who are taught by the Holy Ghost can read it plainly enough. To them it is a secret told.
“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 [or wonderment]." (Ver. 6.) God has only established two religious systems upon the earth (if we may so call them) in relation to men, namely, Judaism and Christianity. Both of them have become utterly corrupted through the power of Satan and the will of man. Both are charged with having shed the blood of God's own people. In Matt. 23:34-3934Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:34‑39) Jerusalem is declared to be guilty of all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from Abel downwards to the time of Christ, and she filled her cup in crucifying Him. Here the professing church, Babylon the great, is seen as the woman drunken with the blood of God's saints and the martyrs of Jesus. No wonder that John wondered with great wonderment as he beheld this marvelous vision.
“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. 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." (Verses 7, 8.) We have already spoken somewhat both of the woman and of the beast that carrieth her, remarking that the Christian, taught by the Spirit, can understand. In this seventh verse the angel asks John, the Christian prophet, the cause of his wonderment, and tells him further details of the meaning of the vision. He speaks first of the beast. It was, is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit or abyss, and it shall go into perdition. In reading the whole description, and comparing it with other passages in the Revelation and in Daniel, there is the clearest proof, as we have more than once already remarked, that it refers to the Roman Empire. It "was," lasting several centuries before and after Christ; it "is not," for it succumbed before the invasions of the barbarian world; it "shall [or is about to] ascend out of the abyss" sets forth its awful origin at its resuscitation in the near future (which, as we shall see, will be in a ten-kingdom form, under the headship of him who is also called "the beast"); and "go into perdition" the sure and abiding judgment of God finally coming upon it.." Ascending out of the abyss is characteristic of it during the last half week. Dwellers upon the earth again appear, filled also with wonder as they behold this terrible power, which had once fallen, but shall then become Satan's throne on the earth, being resuscitated by his energy and power. They are men whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. Those whose names are written will witness, and either suffer death for their testimony, or be preserved through the hour of trial. Saints of this present interval are chosen in Christ for heaven by glory from before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:44According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: (Ephesians 1:4).)
“And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 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. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 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." (Verses 9-12.) "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:1414But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14).) The mind which hath wisdom must receive it from God who is its source. In speaking of this same beast in chapter 13. we referred to some of these details in order to make it clear to readers not already somewhat acquainted with this subject. The seven heads represent seven mountains or hills. Rome is known world-wide as the city of seven hills. It is the seat of the woman, or the false professing church. "And [there] are seven kings." The seven heads, as we saw, have a double signification. They also represent seven kings or ruling powers. "Five are fallen." When John wrote, the Roman Empire had been under five successive forms of government —kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs and military tribunes. "One is." It was the time of the imperial rule of the Caesars. The other, the seventh, is not yet come. The writer shares the thought of many that this is a reference to the first Napoleon, who rose into power and conquered most of the territory comprised in the old Roman earth. "When he cometh, he must continue a short space. "From the Isle of Corsica, in the midst of the sea, he rose from obscurity to imperial power, continued a short space, and disappeared from the stage of this world, to spend the short remainder of his life in another island of the sea." And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven." We must bear in mind here what we have remarked on chapter that the term "beast" is applied both to the empire and to its head. The head of the empire, the beast, is an eighth, in that he comes after the seven ruling powers we have just mentioned. He is also said to be of the seven, in that he also will be imperial. He goes into perdition. Chapter 19:20 shows that he will be cast alive into the lake of fire. The ten horns on the beast are said to be ten kings. The empire will take this form towards the close of its history. They had received no kingdom as yet when John wrote. Many kingdoms have been formed since within the sphere then occupied by the Roman power. The boundaries of the old Roman Empire varied according to the success of the Roman legions. It remains to be seen what the exact boundaries will be when the empire is resuscitated in the ten-kingdom form at that day. The kings receive power or authority one hour, or at the same time with the beast.
“These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast." (Ver. 13.) Men speak constantly, even now, of the European concert, and there are repeated efforts on the part of the great powers to act together, as crisis upon crisis occurs, in order to avoid the awful arbitrage of the sword, and all the terrible consequences of international strife. Conscious of the destructive power of modern weapons, and of the deplorable results of war for all parties involved, the tendency of these powers is to act together, thus unconsciously paving the way for the character of things portrayed in relation to the empire of ten kingdoms. And as no power can be long maintained without a head, this will open the way for the rise, reception and exaltation of the beast as false king of kings and lord of lords 1. The ten kings will have one mind, doubtless brought about by Satanic power, and thus combine to give their power and authority to the beast. Hence he will wield a power, through Satan on the one hand, and through the ten kings on the other, unparalleled in the history of the world.
“These shall make war 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." (Ver. 14.) Think of the impiety and deep-dyed wickedness of men, kings and their peoples rising up to make war against the holy and humble Lamb of God, the One who stooped from the height supreme of glory to all the awful depths of Calvary's woe to give Himself a ransom for all I Truly, indeed, men love darkness more than light, and hate the light. (John 3:19, 2019And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:19‑20).) They soon have to learn their folly. Overcome at once, Mighty power succumbing before Almighty, it is manifest that they have followed an impostor, and that Christ, and He only, is King of kings and Lord of lords. (Chapter 19:16, 19-21.) And the Lamb, the great King, is not alone. He is surrounded with His redeemed ones. Three things characterize this privileged and richly-blessed company. They are called and chosen and faithful. Called with a heavenly calling, chosen in Christ, viewed as faithful, having shared His sufferings and rejection at the hands of men, and having stood for God, they share the glory of His triumph in that clay, when He shall tread His foes beneath His feet.
“And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (Ver. 15.) This passage is a very distinct one amongst others as a key to the right interpretation of symbols used in the Revelation. We are told plainly what the waters are. They represent the peoples of the world, multitudes of men, nations of the earth, and varied tongues, where the evil woman has found her seat. Both scripture and history demonstrate unquestionably that it refers generally to vast populations on the earth.
“And the ten horns which thou sawest upon [and, New) Trans.] the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." (Ver. 16.) The ten horns and the beast, that is the ten kings, as already explained, having lapsed into infidelity, through the blinding power of Satan, and the deceitfulness of their own hearts and of sin, become open enemies of the false church. Hatred fills their hearts against this great, immoral corruptress. They use their power to make her utterly desolate. They strip her of her purple and scarlet and gaudy jewelry. They consume her flesh, and they burn her with fire. Though, looked at broadly, this must be taken figuratively, it is highly probable that similar scenes will be enacted as those which, on a smaller scale, accompanied the French revolution, such as open violence against ecclesiastical authority and influence, the despoiling of church wealth, the destruction and burning of ecclesiastical buildings. Also the endeavor to utterly stamp out all pretension to religion, and to support infidel and blasphemous authority and influence in its place.
“For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." (Ver. 17.) Though kings and their subjects are the active agents in this overwhelming destruction of the harlot, they little know that they are carrying out the will of God in the judgment of that grossly wicked system. A little later they themselves also, in the midst of their infidelity and blasphemy, will come under His judgment. (Rev. 19:2121And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:21)) God, operating with invisible power, puts it into the hearts of these kings to execute His will, to confederate together, and, without any religious restraint, to give their kingdom to the blasphemous beast at their head. But it is only for a little while,. Satan's millennium (if we may so call it) is very short-lived. False religion, infidelity, Satanic rule will all come clown with a mighty crash before the almighty will of the living God. It is thus far and no farther. Great as these kings and their power may be, and however great the power of their head, the beast, all are but as puppets in the hand of the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity. They can only act "until the words of God shall be fulfilled." They are many, but not one shall fall to the ground. What He hath spoken, He is able also to perform. He is strong that executeth His word. (Joel 2:1111And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? (Joel 2:11))
“And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." (Ver. 18.) Here again, nothing can be plainer than the explanation as to who the woman is. She is that great reigning city to which the kings of the earth have been subject. Rome's constant effort ever since she enchained the minds of men with her sorceries, has been not only to exercise ecclesiastical, but also political power over the kings of Christendom. By means of bulls, banns, interdicts and other Satanic weapons, many mighty monarchs have been compelled to bite the dust and to obey the edicts of the Vatican. For a long period her power was supreme. The false vicar of Christ and his court, arrayed in purple and scarlet and with precious stones, usurped and long maintained their authority, and the so-called church ruled instead of Christ the true Head. But as light from the Reformation onwards has dawned, and the word of God has gradually regained its authority and supremacy more or less in the hearts of the Lord's people, and education and civilization have exposed superstition, the papal power has waned. Protestantism as such has proved itself to be a feeble bulwark, masses within its pale having never escaped from, or having lapsed back more or less under papal influences. A sorry state of things is the result. The great city has lost nearly all its political, and a great deal of its ecclesiastical power; and infidelity and socialism have lifted up their head. Masses have fallen away from even the external forms of corrupted Christianity, and whilst Romanism holds her own in some parts, and makes persistent and secret efforts to recover her lost ground in others (here and there with some measure of success), the great rising tide of infidelity will, at the rapidly approaching end of the age, overwhelm the great city, led on by Satan to its utter destruction. Blessed be God, He has to-day, those who seek to maintain His glory, and to stand apart from the awful evil perpetrated under the holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son. And He will have other witnesses for His glory, in the day of the coming crisis.