REVELATION 17 - Babylon, The Mother
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 shew 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 coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, 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 were 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; and in order to give a full presentation of it, goes back and gives some of the facts of her past 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, and with the wine of her fornication, or 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 here have 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.
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; for purple and scarlet are the chief colors in the robes of popes and cardinals; and among the myriads of precious stones which adorn her service, according to an eye-witness, silver is scarcely known, and gold itself looks but poorly. And 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, explaining the figure, only that which is in full accordance with truth, — there came forth only abominations, and wine of her fornication, fit symbol of her abominable doctrines, and still more abominable practices.
This woman is explicitly called Babylon. Is Rome, then, Babylon, to the exclusion of all other religious bodies? — No, 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.
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 astonishment when he saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints? Was persecution of the people of God any strange thing in his day? Had he not seen Rome launch its most fiery anathemas against the church, being himself 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 just 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 drunken with their blood, he could but wonder with great amazement.
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 beast. A wild beast, like the one thus introduced, is the symbol of an oppressive and persecuting power; and while the Roman power as a nation had a long, uninterrupted existence, it passed through certain phases during which this symbol would be inapplicable to it, and during which time, consequently, 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 the empire was nominally converted to Christianity; there was a transition from paganism to another phase of religion falsely called Christian; and 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. Time passed on, and it degenerated into popery, and again assumed its bloodthirsty and oppressive character, and then it constituted the beast that “yet is,” or in John’s day was to be.
The Seven Heads. — The seven heads are explained to be, first, seven mountains, and then seven kings, or forms of government; for the expression in verse 10, “And there are seven kings,” should read, and these are seven kings. “Five are fallen,” says the angel, or passed away; “one is;” the sixth was then reigning; another was to come, and continue for a short space; and when the beast reappeared in its bloody and persecuting character, it was to be under the eighth form of government, which was to continue till the beast went into perdition. The seven forms of government that have existed in the Roman empire are usually enumerated as follows: (1) kingly; (2) consular; (3) decemvirate; (4) dictatorial; (5) triumvirate; (6) imperial; and (7) papal. Kings, consuls, decemvirs, dictators, and triumvirs had passed away in John’s day. He was living under the imperial form. Two more were to arise after his time. One was only to continue a short space, and hence is not usually reckoned among the heads; while the last, which is usually denominated the seventh, is in reality the eighth. The head which was to succeed the imperial, and continue a short space, could not be the papal; for that has continued longer than all the rest put together. We understand, therefore, that the papal head is the eighth, and that a head of short continuance intervened between the imperial and papal. In fulfillment of this, we read that after the imperial form had been abolished, there was a ruler who for about the space of sixty years governed Rome under the title of the “Exarch of Ravenna.” Thus we have the connecting link between the imperial and papal heads. The third phase of the beast that was, and is not, and yet is, is the Roman power under the rule of the papacy; and in this form it ascends out of the bottomless pit, or bases its power on pretensions which have no foundation but a mixture of Christian errors and pagan superstitions.
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 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 7:8, where they are shown to represent the ten kingdoms that arose out of the Roman empire. They receive power one hour (Gr. ὥρα, 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, in his work on the Apocalypse, 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’ (μίαν ὥραν). The ten kingdoms shall be contemporaneous, in contradistinction to the ‘seven heads,’ which were successive.”
This language must refer to the past, when the kingdoms of Europe were unanimous in giving their support to the papacy, and upholding it in all its pretensions. It cannot apply to the future; for after the commencement of the time of the end, they were to take away its dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end (Daniel 7:26); and the treatment which these kingdoms are finally to bestow upon 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 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 has assumed the title of King of kings and Lord of lords, a title which he does not assume till his second coming. Chapter 19:11-16.
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 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.
An Important Symbol Defined. — 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 reference to the old 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.