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The Judgment and the Great Harlot
Summary —The Woman Clothed in Purple and Scarlet. Her Name, Mystery, Babylon the Great. The Beast on Which She Sat. The Meaning of the Seven Heads and Ten Horns. The Victory of the Lamb.
The sixteenth chapter presents the series of historical events that lead to the overthrow of spiritual Babylon. The interpretation of these has been for the most part determined by the facts of history which have already transpired. The sixth vial brings to the present date. Concerning what follows the seventh vial I speak with diffidence, as it is yet future, but of this we can be certain, that it foreshadows the final overthrow of the anti-Christian powers. In chapters xvii., xviii., and xix., the downfall of these powers, the overthrow of the Apostate Church, the triumph of the Word of God, and the victory of Armageddon, are described with greater detail. Chap. 17:1–6 describes spiritual Anti-christ under the figure of a great harlot. The true Church is described throughout Revelation as a pure woman, the Bride of Christ; the false church as a harlot. That this harlot refers to the same wicked power already described as Babylon is evident from the words on her forehead.
1–3. There came one of the seven angels. These angels had symbolized the overthrow of Babylon by their vials. This one will now show John the events of her overthrow in greater detail. The next three chapters relate to her fate. Sitteth upon many waters. Is supported by many nations. See verse 15, which explains the meaning of “waters” when used as a symbol. 2. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication. There has been an unholy relationship between this false church and the rulers and kingdoms of the earth. Were drunken with the wine of her fornication. The nations have received her spirit and partaken of her sins. 3. He carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness. It is not explained why she is seen in a wilderness. Perhaps the thought is that her development was in obscurity and almost unnoticed until she had reached supreme power. Sitting upon a scarlet colored beast. Supported by this beast. In chap. 13 I have discussed at length the meaning of this beast and of its seven heads. See that chapter. And ten horns. The significance of these will be considered under verse 12.
4–5. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color. The color of royalty. Decked with gold, etc. Her jewels and gold indicate enormous wealth. Having a golden cup in her hand. A golden censer in the hands of an angel represents by its incense the prayers of those who belong to the true church. This symbol of the false church has a cup full of abominations instead. See Jeremiah 51:7. 5. Upon her forehead was a name written. A title which told who she was and explained her character. Mystery. Making pretensions that the world cannot understand. (See 2 Thess. 2:7.) Babylon the Great. Another name is given. She is the wicked city that carried the true Israel into bondage and persecuted them. See notes on 14:8. The Mother of Harlots. Not only a harlot, but the mother of harlots. In connection with Babylon, the two horned beast, and the scarlet woman, Revelation points out fornication, or harlotry, as one of their most prominent characteristics. In order that there may be no mistake about what is meant, it is well to determine the use of these terms in the Bible. “Harlotry symbolizes uniformly the apostasy of God's church.”—Auberlen. “The word harlot is used at least fifty times to describe spiritual fornication; that is, the corrupt doctrine and practices of the churches of Israel and Judah.”—Bishop Wordsworth. “In eighteen out of twenty places where the figure occurs its import is that God's church and people had forsaken him.”—Alford. “There are only three places in the whole Bible where the figure is applied to heathen cities or nations; twice to Tyre, and once to Nineveh.”—Williams. The fact that uniform use (with the rarest exceptions) is to describe a falling away from God shows that the Scarlet Harlot is the symbol of a faithless, apostate church. One is signified, too, that is the mother of other false churches which have followed her ways.
6. I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints. This implies that she had been a great persecutor and had slain multitudes of the people of God. There is only one body claiming to be the Christian Church to whom this will apply. There have been some harlot daughters of the harlot mother who have also engaged in persecution, but there is only one self-styled Christian body on the earth of whom it can be said she “was drunk with the blood of the saints.”
7–11. I will tell thee the mystery of the woman. This is told in the latter portion of this chapter and in the next. And of the beast that carrieth her. For a full discussion of this seven-headed beast, see notes on chap. 13:1–10. 8. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not. See notes just referred to. The beast that existed then, when John wrote, was to receive a deadly wound, and to appear again in a new form. They whose name hath not been written. Are not of God's spiritual children. From the foundation of the world. The meaning of this expression is to be sought in 13:8. Their names were written in the book of life which had existed from the time referred to in 13:8, when the plan of redemption was prepared in the counsels of God. 9. Here is the mind which hath wisdom. The mind that hath wisdom can interpret what follows. The seven heads are seven mountains. Since just one city in the world was called the city of seven mountains (septem montes) in John's time there must be a reference to that city. 10. And there are seven kings. We have found that a mountain is a symbol of an exalted man, or power. In 13:1–8 I have explained the kingdoms or powers, symbolized by these heads. 11. The beast that was, and is not, is the eighth. I have explained in chapter 13 this eighth power, which was a revivification of the beast, and which had the characteristics and strength of all the seven.
12–15. And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings. In 12:3 there are seven diadems on the heads, but none on the horns; in 13:1 there are no diadems on the heads, but there are on the horns. The diadem signifies royal power. The first reference points to a period when the powers existed of which the heads were a symbol; the second reference points forward to a time when these had mostly passed away, and when the ten royal powers signified by the horns had existed. The horn is a symbol of power, and often is used for a kingdom in prophetic language. See Dan. 7:24. This, then, implies ten powers which sprang out of Rome and supported the false church. These are given by Sir Isaac Newton as follows: 1. Kingdom of the Vandals in Spain and Africa. 2. Kingdom of the Visigoths. 3. Kingdom of the Suevi in Spain. 4. Kingdom of the Alans in France. 5. Kingdoms of the Burgundians. 6. Kingdom of the Franks. 7. Kingdom of the Britons. 8. Kingdom of the Huns. 9. Kingdom of the Lombards. 10. Kingdom of Ravenna. The Roman empire was broken up into these kingdoms, and they were all supporters of the Papacy. These ten kings or kingdoms did not exist in the time of John, but should afterwards receive authority and do the will of the beast. For one hour. For a short time. A part of these kingdoms soon passed away. 14. These shall war against the Lamb. They aid the false church in its war on the saints. The Lamb shall overcome them. They shall finally turn away from the false church. 15. The waters which thou sawest. These are symbolical of the many nations and races which support the scarlet woman.
16–18. The ten horns … shall hate the harlot. At a later period still, the ten horns shall hate and desolate the harlot. We have seen this fulfilled in the fact that the kingdoms that have been developed from these have in the last three centuries either become Protestant, or have broken with Roman rule. The historical facts given under the seven vials show how they have waged war on Rome. 17. For God did put in their hearts to do his mind. He used these as agents to carry out his own will. First they gave their support to the false woman, until his words were accomplished, and then turned from her and assailed her. 18. The woman … is the great city. The city named in 16:19. See notes there.
Note. —In chap. 16:19 it is declared that when the seventh vial is poured out the great city Babylon shall be divided into three parts It is there suggested in the notes that this may refer to the separation of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet from each other. In the present chapter (17:16) it is stated that the ten horns, which become the strength of the beast, shall be turned upon the woman who is Mystery, Babylon, the Great. This implies a separation between the beast and the woman, between the secular power that had supported the Papacy and the Papacy itself. This seems to have been already fulfilled. The temporal dominion of the popes, “the states of the church,” has been taken from them, the powers of Europe have ceased to obey the popes, even the Catholic powers, such as France and Italy, have shut up monasteries and appropriated the overgrown possessions of the church to the uses of the state. The passages referred to imply that the Papacy will continue to exist after it has ceased to receive the support of the secular power, since the woman still lives after the support of the beast is withdrawn.
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