Babylon and Her Destruction (17.1-20.6)

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Revelation 17 | Revelation 18 | Revelation 19 | Revelation 20

 

The long section from 17.1 to 18.24 is best to be taken as one single chapter. Please note also that 18.1-3 serves as transitional words, since they conclude what has been spoken previously and commence what is next going to be said; for these verses mention the following three things:

(1) “By the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen”—only chapter 17 mentions this (17.2);

(2) “The merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wantonness”—only chapter 18 mentions this (18.11,15); and

(3) “The kings of the earth committed fornication with her”—both chapters 17 and 18 speak about this (17.2, 18.9).

The word “Babylon” comes from “Babel”: It is recorded in Genesis 10 and 11 that Nimrod built the city of Babel in the land of Shinar. It was he who tried to protect himself by his own strength. The origin of the tower of Babel is found in Genesis 11.1-4. God confounded the language of the people and scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth. Hence the city was called “Babel” (11.9). “Babel” or “Babylon” simply means “confusion”. Idol-worship began there, and it stood in opposition to God. The city grew larger and larger until it reached its golden age at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Due to the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel, God delivered them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon.

In the days of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a huge image: and by interpretation he himself was the image’s head of gold, the most prosperous period in the history of Babylon; then Medo-Persia (the image’s arms of silver) destroyed Babylon, and the city became desolate. Later on, Greece (the image’s belly of brass) destroyed Medo-Persia; and Greece was in turn destroyed by Rome (the image’s legs of iron). Babylon was therefore the first kingdom, while Rome was the last kingdom. And these four kingdoms oppressed the Jews. Three kingdoms have already passed away, but Rome has continued on. The ten toes of the image have yet to appear. Now just as Babylon had greatly worshiped idols and deeply hated the Jews, so has Rome.

Rome was not only politically a city, it was also a center of religion. In the city of Rome were to be found many Christians, yet Rome hated Christians the most. Not until the fourth century after Christ did Constantine the Great accept Christianity and encourage his people to do the same. With the result that Christianity became the official religion of Rome. At the same time, though, the center of politics shifted from Rome to Constantinople. Rome itself became subject to the rule of Constantinople and remained that way until the sixth century. At the time of Leo a general council was held at Constantinople wherein idol-worship was condemned as heretical and illegal. Rome opposed this, and she broke with Constantinople. Thus were formed the Eastern Roman Church (the Greek Orthodox Church) and the Western Roman Church (the Roman Catholic Church). The influence of the Eastern Roman Church began to wane, but that of the Western Roman Church increased steadily. A great number of Christians suffered death at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to Revelation 17 and 18 the Roman Catholic Church will experience tremendous growth in the future, far exceeding that of the past. Her influence will be enormous. But when Antichrist shall arise and set up his image as an object of worship, he with his ten subordinate kings shall destroy the Roman Church. Nevertheless, with the passing of Rome religious, Rome political will still continue. She will make the Mediterranean Sea a center of her influence. Three and a half years later, God will destroy Rome political.

Why is it that chapters 17 and 18 do not mention Rome plainly, but use Babylon instead? Because John lived under the reign of Rome. If he should have plainly written of Rome, his writing might not have been able to be circulated—yet not that John was afraid to write explicitly, but that the Holy Spirit intended to have it hidden. Nevertheless, the same Spirit is concerned lest people take Babylon as being literal. So in Revelation 17.5 He declares:

(1) “Mystery, Babylon the Great”—Being a mystery, it must be spiritual and not literal in its interpretation. For instance, if in 11.8 Jerusalem had been plainly mentioned, the Jews would have immediately risen up in arms. So that a spiritualized form of writing is here used.

(2) By saying Babylon the Great instead of simply Babylon, it intimates that this Babylon is much greater than the actual Babylon of the past. Such a rendering thus helps the reader to know that Babylon is not to be taken as Babylon literally but is to be understood as standing for Rome.

Why Babylon Here Points to Rome

(1) Only one city in the world is built on seven hills or mountains, and that is the city of Rome. Rome historically is called the seven-hilled city (cf. 17.9).

(2) “Fallen” in 17.10 has reference, as we have indicated before, to violent death. Some were murdered, some committed suicide. At the time of John’s writing this book, the king who was then living must have been a Roman Caesar.

(3) Besides the king of Rome there was none else at that time who reigned over the kings of the earth (cf. 17.18).

In What Respects Babylon Resembles Rome

(1) Babylon was the first nation which broke through to the Jewish holy land and entered the holy place. But so did Rome.

(2) Babylon, as we have said, means confusion. How very greatly confused was Rome also—and still is! She mixed up the church with the country, the church with the world, law with grace, the traditions of men with the word of God, the pagans with the Christians, Judaism with Christianity, God’s promises to the church with His promises to the Jews, the carnal with the spiritual, the earthly with the heavenly, the present rejection with the future glory. In fact, she is the center of all mixtures. How extensive is her confusion indeed!

(3) The church fathers themselves regarded Rome as Babylon. Tertullian noted that Babylon was Rome. Jerome said, “When I dwelt in Babylon and resided within the walls of the scarlet adulteress, and had the freedom of Rome, I undertook a work concerning the Holy Spirit, which I proposed to ascribe to the Bishop of that city.” And Augustine said, “Babylon is a former Rome, and Rome a later Babylon.” * 

* Robert Govett, The Apocalypse Expounded, London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1920, p. 442.—Translator 

(4) Some prominent Romish writers such as Robert Bellarmine, Cesare Baronius, Jacques Bossuet, and Hug have also admitted that Babylon meant Rome. Bellarmine, for example, wrote this:  

“Moreover, John in the Apocalypse everywhere calls Rome Babylon.”

* Govett, Ibid., p. 442.—Translator

There is a school of thought which maintains that Babylon points only to political Rome, not to religious Rome. This concept, though, is erroneous. If Babylon only refers to political Rome, why should “fallen” be mentioned twice in 14.8 and 16.19? For the event represented by the word “fallen” in 14.8 happens before the setting up of the image of the beast; therefore it is an event occurring during the first three and a half years. But the “fallen” (“fell”) told about in 16.19 takes place at the time of the seventh bowl, that is to say, after the setting up of the image of the beast. Hence there must be two different aspects of Babylon in view. This fits in perfectly with both religious Rome (since “Babylon” means confusion, and this confusion prevails in the realm of religion) and political Rome (since “Rome” in Hebrew means “the one who exalts himself”, and how she exalts herself in opposition to God).

“Mystery, Babylon the Great” alludes to the religion of Rome. The reasons for this view are:

(1) “The great harlot that sitteth upon many waters” (17.1). This harlot is a city. Since the city of Rome is never built on many waters (there is only one river in the city of Rome), this harlot cannot be applied to political Rome.

(2) “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (17.9). As indicated earlier, Rome is built on seven mountains and she is called ‘the seven-hilled city. Since this seven-hilled city points to political Rome, the harlot here who sits on the seven mountains cannot herself be representative of political Rome but must stand for religious Rome that sits above political Rome.

(3) “And when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder” (17.6). Should this woman point to political Rome, where is the wonder or surprise to be found in that? She instead must be religious Rome, and hence the amazement. It is not at all surprising for the nations to persecute Christians; but for the Roman Church to persecute Christians, this is really astounding.

(4) The “fornication” mentioned in 17.2 cannot be applied to something physical, it has to be a reference to something doctrinal in nature. A physical city is unable to commit physical fornication; so that what is meant here must have application to religious Rome.

(5) Political Rome controls the kings of the earth, hence it is not possible for political Rome to commit fornication with them. The great harlot in 17.2 is without doubt religious Rome.

Nevertheless, Babylon also has reference to political Rome, for the following reasons:

(1) According to 17.16 the end of the woman comes when she is burned by the beast (Antichrist) and ten horns (ten subordinate kings). But in 18.8 she is judged by God. For this reason, 17.16 has reference to the religious aspect whereas 18.8 has reference to the political aspect.

(2) In 18.7 it reads: “She saith in her heart, I sit a queen”; but by the time of 17.16 she is already dethroned by the beast and the ten kings. How, then, can it still be said in 18.7 that she sits a queen? This is possible only because one speaks of religious Rome and the other of political Rome.

(3) Chapter 17 is largely symbolic, while the latter half of chapter 18 is almost entirely literal. The angel explains to John what is shown in chapter 17 because it is allegorical; but the second part of chapter 18 needs no interpretation since it is not symbolic.

(4) After 8.13 records “Woe, woe, woe”, there in fact do come three woes shortly thereafter. Similarly, when 18.2 mentions “fallen, fallen”, there must be two fallings to come; one, the fall of political Rome; the other, the fall of religious Rome.

(5) There are two Jerusalems referred to in this book: one is on earth and one, in heaven. Likewise, there are to be found the two aspects of Rome in this book: one which is political and one religious. These two are distinguishable but not separable.

17.1 This begins the narration of the things that are to occur after the pouring out of the seven bowls. Is it not interesting that one of the seven angels who has the seven bowls signifies the New Jerusalem to John in direct contrast with what is said in 17.1? Before the harlot is judged, God cannot show forth the wife of the Lamb.

The phrase “many waters” here in 17.1 indicates “Peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (see 17.15). The harlot sits upon peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. In other words, the influence of Rome extends throughout the entire world. How the Romish system frequently styles itself as the mistress and mother of all churches.

Why does God call this woman a harlot? Because she communicates and commingles with the world. She has so broadened the communion of the saints as to hold inter course with the world. What she gains is worldly pleasure and earthly glory. She has become savorless salt. A harlot is one who commits fornication without the due process of marriage. An adulteress is a woman who commits fornication after being married. God therefore calls her a harlot, since a harlot is a woman who commits fornication before marriage; thus signifying that God has never recognized the relationship between the Roman Church and Christ. Like a harlot, the Roman Church has not kept her virginity for Christ.

This woman is called a “great harlot”: Had the Roman Catholic Church observed Matthew 5-7, she could not be great—she could only develop into a “little flock” (Luke 12.32). Her testimony would simply be that the world is rebellious and that Christ shall come again to judge it. Her being “great” is exactly what the Lord predicted in Matthew 13.32. In this connection we need to read Genesis 1 which states that “the earth brought forth grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after their kind” (v.12). Yet Matthew 13 records the Lord Jesus as saying this: “When it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree” (v.32). Hence the greatness here described in Revelation is the greatness of a harlot. Please observe that the Romish pope is greater than an emperor. An emperor can only control a man’s body, but a pope can control a man’s soul, yes, even that of the emperor’s. Now such a situation is not at all normal for the church on earth.

17.2 “With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication”—By way of explanation please consider the following:

(1) In order to please the kings of the earth, the Roman Church was willing to baptize them as long as they wished to be baptized. Thus, she auctioned away the principles of Christ and the word of God.

(2) She made the church co-extensive with the state. Christianity became the state religion of Rome. Anyone who was born a Roman could be a Christian. Normally the church was smaller than the state, but now she became equally as big.

(3) The Church joined to herself the political powers of kings and rulers. The foremost sin of fornication she can commit is to force Christianity on the people by means of the powers of kings and emperors. This was done not only by Rome but also by many other nations. The result was to make merely nominal Christians out of people.

To commit fornication with the kings of the earth is said to be, interpretively speaking, the Roman Church’s direct relationship with them. But the verse, “and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication”, speaks of her indirect relationship with the people on earth. Wine here signifies heresies. The Romish Church has caused people on earth to lose their self-determination and to become foolish through heretical doctrines. On the one hand she has taught that by giving a little money and by making confession to a priest a person’s sin may be forgiven, but on the other hand she has failed to instruct people how they ought to live a holy life. She allows them to indulge in worldly pleasures. Indeed, this wine of her fornication has made the whole world drunk. It is quite true that without religion no one could live on earth. For this reason, the Roman Church is most palatable to the taste of the world. She disregards spiritual reality on the one hand, yet on the other uses all sorts of religious rituals to create emotional comforts as well as glowing expectation within the hearts of the people.

So has been the Church of Rome, and so shall she be revived in the future. For instance, in China there are only about 300,000 to 400,000 Protestants, but there are more than 2,000,000 Roman Catholics.* Furthermore, once a Roman Catholic, one dies a Roman Catholic. Several big denominations in the United States had no increase during one year, whereas the Roman Catholics added several millions to their record.

17.3 “Wilderness” may be interpreted spiritually, for the world is referred to in Scripture as a wilderness (Ps. 107.33,34); or it may be interpreted literally, since the vicinity of Rome itself has been called a “marble wilderness” by some.** 

* These statistics refer back to the early 1930's.—Translator

** Govett, op. cit., p. 428.Translator  

“A woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast”—This beast represents the Roman Empire, for the seven heads and ten horns are merely part of it; it also points to Antichrist, because even though he is the eighth head he nevertheless possesses all the villainy of the other seven as well as the powers of the ten horns. God looks upon Antichrist as just a wild beast. Moreover, He looks upon this woman as a harlot, for she is not as irrationally vicious as a wild beast, though she abandons her rationality and acts a harlot.

“A woman sitting upon . . . a beast”—This speaks of the union of the Roman Church with the Roman state. How this woman has made use of the state! If a local magistrate had offended a Roman Catholic priest, the pope might have issued an interdict upon the city, prohibiting the celebration of mass and thus stirring up the people against their magistrate. Or if the Roman Church had wished for any action to be taken against some people, she would not have acted directly; instead, she would have instigated the Roman state to act. The woman’s influence is as great as that of the beast, because she rides on the beast.

The color of the beast is red as that of the dragon is red. This indicates that this beast comes out of the dragon; therefore, it is the same as the dragon.

“Full of names of blasphemy”—This is different from the words of blasphemy. The words “names of blasphemy” mean calling oneself with the names used of God. How the Roman caesars were accustomed to employing divine titles!

17.4 “Purple”—This is the color adopted in the Roman Empire as the symbol of honor and power. For example, a Roman senator had a broad strip of purple on the breast, while a knight had a narrow strip of it. The emperor wore a purple robe. For the woman to be thus arrayed in purple means that she is in possession of earthly glory (note that the rich man cited in Luke 16.19 wore a robe of purple).

Purple is not a basic color since it is the combination of blue and red colors. Blue is the heavenly color, but red is the earthly (for note that the Biblical place-name Edom means red, and therefore this color denotes that which is earthly). Hence purple is the blending of heaven and earth.

Scarlet is the color of Rome—“‘I caused this inquiry to be made of an intelligent gentleman who had passed much time in Rome, without his knowing my design,’ said Barnes. ‘What would strike a stranger on visiting Rome, or what would be likely particularly to arrest his attention as remarkably there?’ And he unhesitatingly replied, ‘The scarlet color.’” * Scarlet is the special color of the ecclesiastical cardinals as well as the popes. The cardinals are so called since their dresses, their hats, their cloaks, and their stockings are always of scarlet. In the case of the pope, even the inner lining of his cloak is scarlet; and the costume of his bodyguard is also scarlet. Whenever the pope travels, he is welcomed with decorations of scarlet color.

* Govett , op. cit., p.430.—Translator

“And decked with gold and precious stone and pearls”—All these things represent the truths of God. The Roman Church, like this woman, adorns herself with these outwardly (cf. 1 Peter 3.3, 1 Tim. 2.9); yet her real condition is most abnormal in the sight of God.

“Having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations”—This woman has no crown on her head for she is not a genuine queen, neither does she hold a staff in her hand since she is not supposed to possess any earthly authority. Instead she has in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, which speaks of her seducing power. Her victory is gained not by any direct authority, but through her seductive influence.

A metal was once struck by the pope in which a woman was holding in her hand a golden cup; and the caption read: “She sits upon the universe”! Unconsciously, the Roman Church acknowledges herself as that woman.

17.5 “And upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great”—She is a mystery, and yet this mystery is written on her forehead for everyone to read. This implies that whoever has an eye can perceive the meaning of this mystery.

God recognized Jerusalem as the center of worship (religious) as well as the center of earthly dominion (political). The error of the Roman Church is to presume that God has established her in lieu of Jerusalem, thus making herself both a religious and political center. What Jerusalem is rightfully to be in the millennial kingdom is what the Roman Church has today already assumed.

“The mother of the harlots”—Being herself the great harlot, all that come out of this woman are harlots. These are the state churches, since their institutional systems are similar to that of Rome. Any church group that is united with the world is a small harlot. (For example, membership is not based on regeneration, but is granted to any who pledge to give support financially; also, the qualification for taking communion or the Lord’s Supper is membership instead of salvation; and so forth).  

“Mother . . . of the abominations of the earth”—Abominations in Old Testament times always pointed to idols (see Deut. 7.25,26). The Roman Church is known for her idol-worshiping. She worships Mary, angels, apostles, saints, and so forth. Her split with Constantinople was over this matter of her idol-worshiping.

17.6 This verse tells us what this woman did prior to what she will even more intensely and cruelly do in the future. Notice carefully that this verse does not say that the woman herself shed the blood of the saints and of the martyrs of Jesus; it merely states that she was “drunken with [their] blood”: The Roman Church never slays people with her own hands, she instead uses the authority of the Roman state to kill. Whereas she is the instigator, it is the Roman state that directly persecutes the Christians.

The word “saints” here includes also the Jews, for in the future not only those who have the testimony of Jesus but also those who are Jews will suffer persecution from the hand of the Roman Church.

John is surprised because the persecution of Christians comes from a people who profess to believe in Christ. How can he not wonder with a great wonder?

It should be noted that 17.1-6 records the vision John saw; 17.7 begins the interpretation given by the angel. Consequently, the section found in 17.7-18 should be taken literally.

17.7 The angel is going to tell John the mystery of the seven heads and ten horns.

17.8 The angel explains to John that the beast he saw has four stages of history; namely, the beast (1) was, (2) is not, (3) is about to come out of the abyss, and (4) will go into perdition.

In the book of Revelation this beast, as has been said, represents Antichrist as well as the Roman Empire. In this connection, though, it points to a man, not to a state. The reasons for this view are as follows:

(1) This beast “was”—How then can we say that the Roman Empire once existed earlier prior to the time of John?

(2) The beast “is not”—Yet neither can we say that the Roman Empire did not exist at John’s time.

(3) The beast “is about to come up out of the abyss”—Abyss is the place where the spirits are imprisoned. How can we therefore say that the Roman Empire is about to come out of the abyss?

(4) The beast is “to go into perdition”—How, moreover, can we say that the political entity known as the Roman Empire will go into hell in the future?

Since, from this reasoning, this beast cannot apply to the Roman Empire, it must have reference to Antichrist. “Was” shows that before the time of John there was such a person who once lived on earth.

“Is not” indicates that at John’s time this man is not in the world since he must have died. The phrase “is not” is also used in Genesis 42.36-38 to indicate death.

“Is about to come up out of the abyss” reveals that he is now in the abyss but will come out of it, that is to say, he will be resuscitated.

“Go into perdition” discloses that he will not live forever on earth, neither can he rule forever, because his destiny will be that of being cast into the lake of fire (19.20, 20.10).

His being “was, and is not, and is about to come” is a clever counterfeiting of God “who is and who was and who is to come” (cf. 1.4,8; 4.8).

“And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder”—And this wonderment will eventually lead them to worship the beast (13.12). Only those whom God has chosen will be kept. All whose names have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will be preserved by God and kept from worshiping the beast.

17.9 is the same as 13.18; except that in 13.18 it says that the mind that has wisdom can count the number of the beast, whereas in 17.9 it states that the mind of wisdom is to know the heads of the beast.

The seven heads have double meaning; they point to (1) place, and (2) person.

(1) As to place, the seven heads are seven mountains. The heads of the earth are mountains, which also give the impression of strength or power (see Num. 21.20; Jer. 22.6; Amos 1.2, 9.3).

“Rome was in John’s age usually called the seven-hilled city”, said Dr. Woodworth. Many of the ancient Roman poets in their poetry proclaimed Rome as the seven-hilled city. Someone has noticed that for about five hundred years after the time of John, the Roman poets unanimously called Rome the seven-hilled city. There was once a Roman gold metal which showed a woman sitting on seven hills. Even the coin of Emperor Vespasian, as described by Captain Smyth (Roman Coins, page 310), represented “Rome seated on seven hills; at the base Romulus and Remus suckled by the wolf; in front, the Tiber personified.” * 

* Robert Govett, The Apocalypse Expounded. London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1920, p. 442.Translator  

The poet Horace once said, “The gods, who look with favour on the seven hills.” And another poet Tibullus said this: “Ye bulls, feed on herbage of the seven hills.”

Now the names of the seven hills are these: Aventine, Coelian, Esquiline, Capitoline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal.

(2) As to person, these seven mountains are also seven kings, for kings are heads of the peoples. While the heads of the earth (that is, the mountains) are contemporary and continuous, the heads of the peoples are temporary and successive to one another. This double concept of head as being both of the earth and of the people may be demonstrated in one particular passage of Isaiah: “The head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin” (7.8,9).

Some people interpret the seven kings as constituting seven forms of government. Such elucidation is against the rules of scriptural interpretation, as is seen in the following observations:

(1) The seven kings being already the angel’s own explanation, they cannot be expounded in any other way.

(2) The Bible never uses a king to represent politics. Even classical writers do not employ such symbolism.

(3) The concept of a king is itself already the symbol of a form of government (he may represent either an absolute or a constitutional form of monarchy). How then can these kings stand for other forms of government?

(4) In spite of the finding by some of seven different forms of Roman government, the seven kings alluded to here succeed one another, whereas the seven forms of Roman government are not continuous but are intermittent.

(5) If the seven kings point to seven forms of government, what will the ten kings represent? Will they not stand for another ten forms of government? If so, Roman political history would have required 17 forms of government.

(6) 17.9 speaks of the woman sitting upon seven mountains. Each of the seven is a mountain; not that some are mountains and some are not. Similarly, therefore, the seven kings must all be kings.

(7) “Head” in the Scripture always has reference to person. The four heads mentioned in Daniel 7.6 represent four kings, not four forms of government. Why, then, should the seven kings in Revelation represent seven forms of government?

(8) If the kings have reference to various forms of government, then that of “Christian” emperors (such as Constantine the Great) must also be reckoned as numbering among the forms of government. But according to 12.3 the seven heads are located upon the dragon and hence all these heads belong to Satan. Can we say Christianity too belongs to Satan?

Yet some critics counter respond by saying that Rome had twelve caesars, with Domitian at the time of John already being the twelfth caesar. How can we therefore say that Rome has only seven kings? We may answer this by asking why it is that there are only seven specific churches cited in chapters 2 and 3? Obviously, the seven churches are chosen representatively. The same, too, in the matter of the seven kings.

Even so, some may still further argue that even if the seven kings may perhaps be selected on a representative basis, how is anyone to know which seven out of the twelve caesars are to be chosen? Our answer is that we may find them out by means of the following deductions:

(1) 13.1 states: “And upon his heads names of blasphemy”; since the seven heads all have names of blasphemy, these seven kings must be self-styled gods, demanding worship.

(2) The word “fallen” in 17.10 carries with it the idea of violent death (see 2 Sam. 1.19,25,27). All seven kings do indeed meet with violent death: Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—these five kings all assumed deity for themselves; they called for their people to worship them as gods; and all five died unnaturally, either by being murdered or by committing suicide.

Domitian was the sixth one. He was present during the time of John. He too deified himself, and was later murdered.

The seventh one is he who is yet to come. The Bible does not tell us how far apart time-wise the seventh is from the sixth; only that the seventh one will continue a little while (17.10) and later be killed (17.10; 13.3,14).

The interval between the sixth and the seventh one is filled by the reign of religious Rome. From the first to the sixth, also during the seventh and the eighth, political Rome is in power. But now it is currently religious Rome in place of political Rome.

After Zedekiah was taken captive into Babylon there was no king in Israel. A long interval passed before Christ was born. Likewise, after the destruction of Rome there will be an interval before Antichrist appears.  

The whole world will be well prepared for the arrival of Antichrist. Hence, as soon as he appears on the scene he will be able to do much during the three and a half years. The seventh king will have already prepared for the eighth one.

17.11 This verse should be read together with 17.8, for just as 17.8 speaks of the four historical stages of the beast so does 17.11. According to 17.11 the four stages of the beast’s history are denominated as (1) “was”, (2) “is not”, (3) “is of the seven”, and (4) “goeth into perdition”.

Since (1), (2) and (4) in 17.11 coincide with (1), (2) and (4) in 17.8, quite naturally (3) in 17.11 must also agree with (3) in 17.8. Thus, the beast must come out of the abyss.

Because he is said to be an eighth yet is also of the seven and because he comes out of the abyss, he must needs be one of the seven who is raised from death to be the eighth. Which one of the seven will he be?

(1) He cannot be the seventh since the seventh has yet to come to the world (17.10), whereas the beast has already been in the world before (17.8).

(2) He cannot be the sixth because the sixth was on earth when John lived, but this beast “is not” at the time of John (17.11).

Since he is neither the seventh nor the sixth, he must be one of the five. But which of the five is he? From 13.18 we recognize that he must be Nero.

The seventh is but a forerunner of Antichrist. The eighth is to use the body of the seventh. Eight is the number of resurrection; yet his resurrection is to be quite different from that of the Lord Jesus. For the Lord is himself resurrected, but the eighth is to be the reanimation of a corpse with another soul. * 

* This is not to be construed as teaching reincarnation. The Bible does not teach reincarnation, nor did the author ever subscribe to such an heretical doctrine. The specific interpretation given here relative to Antichrist serves only as the exception which goes to prove the rule of no reincarnation—just as the image of the beast having breath and the ability to speak (see 13.14,15 above) is the exception which proves the rule of no image having breath or speaking.—Translator

While the Lord Jesus was on earth the Jews chose a living caesar rather than the living Christ. After Christ was resurrected, people still refused to accept Him. The future Antichrist will be a resurrected caesar, and again people will receive him instead of the risen Christ.

17.12 The seven heads are seven kings, but so are the ten horns ten kings. Yet the heads and the horns are different.

(1) A horn is on the head; therefore, it is relatively smaller than the head. A head represents the entire reign of Rome while a horn stands for a subordinate king of Rome (such as a tetrarch or prince).

(2) There can be only one head at a time, and these heads succeed one another in reigning; but the ten horns can be ten subordinate kings ruling contemporaneously.

(3) Of the seven heads, one is yet to come; but of the ten horns, all are yet to come.

These horns or kings had received no kingdom as yet while John was living.

The ten kings shall receive authority simultaneously with the eighth.

Some suggest that the ten kings are a reference to ten kingdoms. But such an interpretation is not valid for the following reasons:

(1) Ten kings is the explanation of the angel, so there should be no further interpretation.

(2) 17.12 and 17.17 will not make sense if these ten kings are re-interpreted as being ten kingdoms.

(3) Since the beast is a person, the ten kings must likewise be persons.

These ten kings are different from the kings of the earth because:

(1) The kings of the earth exist prior to and also at the time of the ten kings.

(2) The kings of the earth commit fornication with the great harlot, but the ten kings have never been united with the great harlot. On the contrary, they later on destroy her (17.16).

17.13 The beast cannot refer to the pope, for never have ten kings ever given their power to a pope. Nor can the beast be an allusion to any of the former Roman emperors, since, again, no ten kings have ever surrendered their power to any former Roman emperor. The beast is Antichrist. The ten kings give their power to the beast because:

(1) they observe that the beast is raised from death, and thus consider him a superman.

(2) they are enticed by the evil spirit. The Holy Spirit descends from heaven after the death and resurrection of Christ and so the church is formed. Now as a counterfeit, the evil spirit—after the appearing of Antichrist through some kind of resurrection—moves the ten kings to yield their power to the beast.

17.14 According to the order of narration 17.14 precedes 17.16; but according to the order of fact the event of 17.16 happens before that of 17.14. In 19.11-21 we have a detailed description of the war mentioned in 17.14, for the war is actually fought at that time. Though many there will be of those who follow the Lamb, the victory is gained by the Lamb himself. By the sharp sword which proceeds from His mouth the Lamb shall overcome His enemies and tread them under His feet. He overcomes His enemies, not by power but by authority. He overcomes because He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is authority, not power.

Those who accompany the Lamb are marked as having three qualifications—(1) called, (2) chosen, and (3) faithful. They stand in contrast to the great harvest. To follow the Lamb, these must be called. God calls us according to His own determinate will. To be chosen usually precedes a being called, but here it is mentioned after the matter of being called. Hence it refers to a being chosen from among the believers (“Many are called, but few chosen,” says the Lord—Matt. 22.14). Such therefore is the order. Psalm 89.19f. may be used to illustrate the meaning here. The children of Israel have already been chosen by God, yet David is further chosen out of the children of Israel. All who are called are saved, but only those who are after God’s own heart are the overcomers. Those who are saved form one class, and those who overcome form another class. Whoever follows the Lamb needs to be not only called and chosen but also faithful, which means being mindful of the Lord alone and nothing of self.

17.15 This verse explains the significance of the waters. Since the harlot is a mystery, and therefore symbolic in meaning and not to be interpreted literally, so the waters too must be “mysterious”, symbolic, and not subject to literal interpretation. Were we to have Christ as our full satisfaction we would never sit upon many waters. To broaden the fellowship of the saints by having open intercourse with the world is to sit upon many waters.  

This woman in the book of Revelation sits on three places:

(1) upon the beast (17.3), which is to say, she is united with Rome;

(2) upon seven mountains (17.9), which means she makes Rome her center; and

(3) upon many waters (17.15), indicating that her influence extends to the entire world.

Why is she sometimes called “harlot” and sometimes “woman”? The term woman is used in relation to Rome, and the term harlot, in relation to Christ—woman, politically speaking; but harlot, religiously speaking.

17.16 The ten horns and the beast hate the harlot, not the woman. For the woman (the city of Rome, cf. 17.18) is their kingdom. They hate the harlot because she is at least in name linked with Christ.

The beast in this book points both to Rome and to Antichrist. We have already learned that Antichrist will be Nero resurrected. Now if he fiercely persecuted Christians once before, would he ever permit Rome to belong to Christ upon his coming back? The first act he performs, therefore, will be the destroying of the harlot.

The reasons for the hatred of the world as personified by Nero are as follows:

(1) On the one hand, because the conduct of the harlot is either too presumptuous or too wicked. Though their conscience is not enlightened by God, the nations of the world cannot tolerate the practices of the Roman Church, such as, that after the bread is blessed by the priest it somehow is transubstantiated into the body of the Lord, that only the priests can read the Bible, that confession must be made to the priests, and that the inquisition and the selling of indulgences flourish. Yet there are many other mean and treacherous acts practiced by her which even the nations cannot stand.

(2) On the other hand, because of her good, since in the Roman Church there can yet be found such truths taught as the Trinity, Jesus the Son of God, the Virgin Birth, the belief in the Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension, and so forth. She still belongs to Christ in name, and therefore the nations hate her.

The ways the world shall treat the Roman Church are:

(1) make her desolate—probably the Vatican where the pope resides will become a desolate place;

(2) make her naked—which, taken literally, may mean the loss of material things, or taken spiritually, may mean the disclosure of her secrets;

(3) eat her flesh—which, spiritually applied, perhaps means the slaying of her great men or the killing of Roman Catholics in general; and

(4) burn her utterly with fire—There is no difficulty in this being taken literally.

The kings of the earth, however, are the Roman Church’s bosom friends. Yet, when they see her calamity they only bemoan her but do not help her (18.9,10). Though the seventh king is also her friend, he will nonetheless be there only temporarily (17.10), so neither is he of any help. Antichrist becomes her great enemy.  

17.17 The event in this verse probably happens after the great harlot is destroyed. At that time it would appear that the kingdom of Antichrist has come.

17.18 The woman here speaks of Rome, since in John’s time only Rome was the great city which reigned over the kings of the earth.