This chapter may be considered introductory to the eighteenth, or as a digression in the narrative, to explain more fully the integral parts of that complex, mystical moral person so often called “great Babylon,” whose destruction was so awfully presented in the foregoing chapter.
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.
Vs. 1, 2.—The angel that “talked with the apostle” was probably the seventh. “The great whore” is the symbol of the idolatrous church of Rome, which broke her marriage covenant with Christ. Idolatry is spiritual whoredom. (Hosea vi. 10.) Her “sitting upon many waters” is explained, verse 15. “The kings of the earth” are her paramours, and their subjects are partakers in the crime, “made drunk.”
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.
Vs. 3-5.—The “scarlet—coloured beast” is the Roman empire professing the Christian religion, modelled by the Romish church; for the “woman sits upon the beast,” guiding and controlling all its motions. (James iii. 3.) The raiment of both is at once imperial and bloody,—“purple and scarlet.”—The raiment of this “woman” is decked with precious metal, stones and pearls, after the usual “attire of a harlot.” (Ezek. xvi. 17.) The “cup” alludes to the practice of harlots giving love—potions to their paramours, very expressive of the indulgences, absolutions, preferments, etc., by which the church of Rome attracts disciples to her idolatry. “The nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad.” (Jer. li. 7.)—The inscription “upon her forehead” is after the manner of shameless prostitutes, avowing Rome’s whoredoms of idolatry, monasticism, indulgences to sin, as essential to religion, a “mystery of iniquity” by which the “man of sin thinks to change times and laws.” (Dan. vii. 24, 25; xi. 36, 37.)
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.
V. 6.—This “woman,”—Christian church,—was “drunken with the blood of saints and martyrs.” Of course, such a sight would give rise to the apostle’s astonishment. The attempt of popish writers to apply this to pagan Rome’s persecutions is demonstrably false; for John could not “wonder” at the persecution of the church when he was himself an actual victim in Patmos, (Ch. i. 9.)
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.
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.
Vs. 7-11.—The angel explains the “mystery of the woman and of the beast that carrieth her.” The beast, the civil power, carrieth, sustains the woman, the church; as the church controls the state, (v. 3; Ch. xiii. 1, 11, 16.) The “beast that was, and is not, and yet is,” is a mysterious personage as well as the woman; therefore all who “dwell upon the earth,”—not in “heaven, wonder,” (Ch. xiii. 8—6;)—that is, all the vassals of Antichrist, distinguished from those whose “names are in the book of life,”—the two witnesses.—“The seven heads” of the beast signify seven mountains, on which Rome literally stands, namely, Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine, Esquiline, Cœlian, Viminal and Quirinal. Here the woman and Rome are manifestly identical,”—the spiritual empire. But the heads of the beast have a double meaning; for they also signify “seven kings” or successive forms of civil government. At the time when John wrote, “five had fallen;” they had passed into actual history. One was then existing, namely, the emperor, in the person of Domitian, as is supposed. This is the imperial head, whose “deadly wound was healed,” (Ch. xiii. 3.)—The “seventh head was not come” in the apostles’ time, but on his appearance, he was to “continue a short space.” The papacy is not the seventh head. He is a horn. (Dan. vii. 8, 20.) But a horn of the beast cannot identify with the beast himself. It is otherwise with a head, which is the form of government over the whole empire. The patriciate succeeded the imperial, being the seventh head, and only of short duration, about fifty years. Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans in the year eight hundred; and so the patriciate terminated. This is the eighth, which “is of the seven;” and goeth into perdition. This septimo-octave head is so variable, sometimes acknowledged as residing in Austria, then in France, etc., that for hundreds of years, the great republic of the nations,—all bestial,—are at a loss to identify the visible head in whom resides the precedency: hence the “balance of power” is so perplexing and difficult to adjust. Were there an acknowledged imperial and despotic head, this obvious difficulty could not exist. But the beast is not. Nevertheless the arbitrary power of the horns of the beast is sensibly felt in every part of the Roman empire.—The beast is, and will continue till “the time of the end;” (Dan. xii. 9;) for the Roman empire must be equal in duration with the life and actings of the two witnesses, 1260 years.
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.
Vs. 12-14.—“The ten horns” signify “ten kings” or regal or civil sovereignties, into which the empire was to be partitioned after John’s time, and which we have seen was effected by the first four trumpets, (Ch. viii. 7-12.)—These “received power one hour with the beast,”—rather, at one time, or cotemporaneously with the beast; for they are his horns, and are of “one mind, giving their power and strength,” all their resources, to him. “These shall make war with the Lamb,” the Mediator, headed by the dragon, and instigated by the beast and his image, (Ch. xii. 7; xiii. 7.)
15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
V. 15.—“The waters,” controlled by “the whore,” are the multitudes whom the apostate church of Rome commands to volunteer in the wars of the kings against the Lamb.
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.
V. 16.—What a surprising change! yet how natural! (2 Sam. xiii. 15.) The punishment is that which was adjudged in the case of a priest’s daughter. (Lev. xxi. 9.)—The “ten horns,” here, are to be understood generally, not universally, (Ch. xviii. 9; xix. 19.) Some of those princes that have contributed most to the aggrandizement of the Romish church, and been most devoted to her religion, as the ruler of France, “the eldest son of the church,” their “catholic majesties” of Austria, Spain, Portugal,—may be among the first in executing divine judgments on Babylon.—“Make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh;” that is, withdraw the lands, endowments, etc., which enriched her monasteries and fattened her bishops, priests, etc.
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.
V.17.—Here we are led into the secret cause of the wonderful change in the policy of the horns: “God hath put into their hearts.” They just do to the “great whore, whatsoever God’s hand and counsel determined before to be done.” (Acts iv. 28. See also Exod. vii. 8, Gen. xiv. 8, 1. 20 Ps. cv. 25.)
18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
V. 18.—This “woman is the great city;” not literally the city of Rome; but the imperial-ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to whose authority intoxicated kings and their subjects bowed in slavish submission; and whose bloody decrees they had executed for 1260 years upon many of their best subjects and fellow-creatures.