Can Change the World Again.
The Revelation of John - Chapter XVII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible
A strange looking beast, having seven heads and ten horns, has been already shown in vision, and some things have been said by way of explaining who he is and what he does (13: 1-6); then a great city called "Babylon the great" has been doomed to a fearful and utter fall (14: 8-11, and 16: 19); the seven angels having the seven vials, indicative of successive judgments from the Almighty, have gone forth and poured out their vials (16: 1-21); but yet so far the explanations given of these symbols have been few and imperfect. More explanation was needed; one of those seven angels comes forward here to give it. This chapter is throughout an explanation of symbols previously shown or at least indicated; viz., the great harlot; the scarlet-colored beast and his seven heads and ten horns. The angel distinctly declares that he comes to John to give explanations: "I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters" (v. 1); "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carrieth her which hath the seven heads and ten horns" (v. 7);In a series of visions so thoroughly symbolic, where literal statements occur so rarely, where the landmarks of interpretation are so few, it should call forth our deepest gratitude that God has kindly given us here one whole chapter of actual explanation. It will be noted with joy that these explanations treat of the most important symbols which appear in the second principal portion of the book (chaps. 13-19).Here we have the great harlot defined (vs. 1-6); the explanation of the beast of seven heads and ten horns, the heads being first explained (vs. 7-11); and next the ten horns and their relations and deeds (vs. 12-14, and 16, l7); while the waters upon which the woman sat are explained (v. 15), and she herself is comprehensively indicated (v. l8).
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;
One of the highest angels of the heavenly hierarchy comes with inimitable kindness to show the seer of Patmos what the otherwise dark symbols, brought before his prophetic eye, really meant. Daniel was favored in the same way, as may be seen (7: 16, 23, and 8: 15-19, and 9: 20-23, and 10: 5-21). John was favored with similar explanations of other scenes (21: 9).It should be noticed that the angel here proposes to show not merely who this great harlot is, but what judgment the Almighty was about to bring upon her"will show thee the judgment of the great harlot," etc. This is mainly done in the latter part of the chapter (vs. 16, 17).That she "sits upon many waters" is explained (v. 15) to mean that she is the queen city of the nationsthe great metropolis of the provinces and lesser kingdoms of the civilized world. She sits upon these waters in royal state, as is said of the other Babylon, her type (Isa. 47: 7), "I sit a queen," etc. Of course this city can be no other than Pagan Rome.
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.
"Fornication" in the sense of the Old Testament prophets is idolatry. This great harlot (Rome) had been intensely idolatrous; had wrought her religion into the very frame-work of her civil institutions and her fundamental law. In the period of her history here contemplated, this abomination became even more open and outrageous than ever before, by the deification of her emperors and the demand set up that they should be worshiped as gods. In this fornication all the tributary kings of subject nations were involved. They were made drunk with the hot wine of her spiritual fornication.
An objection made at this point to the application of these words"harlot," "abomination," etc.to Pagan Rome, should be carefully examined. It is claimed that this woman cannot be Rome Pagan, and must be Rome Papal, because these terms are used in the Old Testament only of Israel, and of her only in view of her covenant [marriage] relation to God; and therefore, when brought forward into the Christian age must describe an apostate church, and not a merely heathen people and their idolatrous worship.Is this objection valid? Does Old Testament usage forbid the application of these terms to Rome Pagan, and require us to apply them to Rome Papal?
In reply I make the following points:
1. It seems to me entirely sufficient to answer that these terms having passed into current use to denote idolatry and its associate practices (e. g., lewdness, necromancy, the worship of devils, the offering of human sacrifices, etc.), might be applied in this book to Pagan Rome and her idolatries, on the simple principle of using the language, the figures, and the symbols of the Old Testament prophets in the same general sense in which they are found there.
2. There is no reason a priori for assuming that the guilt and the odium couched under these terms depended so much upon the previous covenant relation to God of the parties to whom they are applied as to make them inapplicable to Pagan Rome. In this book of the New Testament, idolatry might be called adultery and abomination, even in a heathen people, never in special covenant with God, the terms being transferred naturally from the Old Testament in this sense.
3. The guilt and odium of idolatry and of its associate practices are the same in nature (though less in degree) in a Pagan people as in an apostate church.
4. The reason why these terms are usually applied to the Jews in the Old Testament is obviously that the prophets were sent to them rather than to the outlying heathen. God had unlimited occasion to reprove them for their idolatries, but did not make it his special object to try to rebuke and reform the heathen of that age.
5. But should these considerations seem insufficient to obviate the objection now in hand, it remains to say that Old Testament usage amply sustains the application of these terms to the heathen, who were never in special covenant with God.As to the term "whoredom," note what was said of Jezebel, a Zidonian princess "What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?" (2 Kings 9: 22.) Or what is said of the Babylonians (Ezek. 23: 17): "The Babylonians defiled her with their whoredoms." Or what is said of Nineveh in a very striking passage (Nahum 3: 4), which seems to have given shape to these expressions in the Apocalypse: "Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredom and families through her witchcraft."As to the kindred term, "abomination," wrought here into the very forehead name of this mystic Babylon (v. 5), "The mother of harlots and abominations of the earth," Old Testament usage appropriates this word more thoroughly than any other to express precisely the idolatries and associate practices of real heathenism. The Mosaic law has it (Dent. 18: 9): "Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations;" and (Dent. 20: 18) "Thou shalt utterly destroy those nations of Canaan that they teach you not to do after all their abominations which they have done unto their gods." The word became a name for the central and chief idol, and we read of "Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites" (1 Kings 11: 5); of "Chemosh, the abomination of Moab" (v. 7); of "Ashtoreth, the abomination of the Zidonians" (2 Kings 23: 13). See also I Kings 14: 24, and 2 Kings 16: 3, and 21: 2, and 2 Chron. 36: 14.And finally it is squarely in point that Jesus himself, speaking of the Roman legions and their idolatrous standards approaching Jerusalem, as the signal to his people for flight from Jerusalem, says (Mat. 24: 15, and Mk. 13: 14), "When ye shall see the abomination that maketh desolate," etc., "then flee to the mountains." Of this word "abomination" in this passage, Dr. Alexander says, "It is specially applied to every thing connected with idolatry and heathenism."With these words of his Lord not improbably familiar and perhaps present to his mind, John might very naturally speak of the same Rome at the same age as the mother of abominations.I must therefore conclude that the objection raised against the reference of these terms to Pagan Rome is without adequate foundation.
3. So he caried 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.
"In the spirit" should rather be "in spirit," without the article, here as in the other passages of this book (1: 10, and 4: 2, and 21: 10).So we should read, "into a wilderness," not "the wilderness," as if it referred to some one previously named. A wilderness was chosen apparently as a fit place for presenting such scenes as were here to be shown.It is the beast, not the woman, who is covered over with names of blasphemy.Was this beast the same which was shown the prophet and described in chap. 13: 1-8? His color is not given there, but his heads and horns are there as here, seven and ten respectively; and his names of blasphemy are made equally prominent in both descriptions; there, "upon his head the names of blasphemy;" "a mouth speaking blasphemies," etc.; here, he is full, i. e., covered over, with "names of blasphemy," There can be no doubt therefore of their true identity. There, all the points made conspire to prove this seven-headed, ten-horned beast to be Pagan Rome, contemplated as a civil government, an empire; and the same is no less true here. The woman, i. e., the city, Rome, reposes upon this beast.The empire built up Rome to become the mistress of the world. She sat in queenly dignity upon this world-wide reigning power. The Empire made the city of Rome great.
4. 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 abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
The woman was most gorgeously arrayed.As to the facility of finding an easy and natural fulfillment in the Rome of John's time, it matters little whether we interpret this description literally of her luxury and splendor, or symbolically of her harlot-life, i. e., of her enormous power toward idolatry and its abominable practices. The latter part of the verse looks most obviously to the latter idea. "The golden cup in her hand full of abominations," etc., was that with which she seduced the nations into her national sins, poisoning the minds of the great men of the earth and firing their passions toward her idolatrous corruptions. As to luxury, the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, buried in that very age and disinterred within our own, reveal no two facts more striking than thesethat the style of common life was gorgeously splendid, and that society must have been inexpressibly rotten with lasciviousnessthe fruit no doubt in large part of the debasing influence of idol-worship and its associate abominations.
5. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
It is fully in harmony with the manner of this book that its prominent personages should wear their own names on their foreheads, or elsewhere on the person.On this verse, critics make two questions(1.) How many of these words belong to the name and were written upon her forehead, and how much of the verse (if any) is the angel's explanation of her name?(2.) What does the name mean and to whom does it belong? Some editions of the English Bible put all the words after "written," in large capitals, assuming that they all belong to her inscribed name. The original gives us no such help toward the views of the writer. Yet it seems to me by no means improbable that the English version has given it truly. The word "mystery" suggests that the name is mystic, symbolic;has an occult meaning. Prof. Stuart thinks that the name really written on her forehead was only "Babylon the Great," and objects against including in the name the words that follow, urging that this woman would not call herself "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."Very true, neither did she call herself "Babylon the Great." The prophet is not giving us the name which Rome gave to herself, but the mystic name under which this woman was shown to him by the angel. All these words have their appropriate place and fulfill their appropriate functions upon her forehead when viewed in this, their true light.As to the meaning little more need be said. The name proves this woman to be the very "Babylon the Great" whose fall is announced in 14: 8, and 16: 19, and throughout chap. 18.Her harlotry and abomination need no further explanation.
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.
She was seen drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs. Nero instigated a most bloody persecution; Domitian followed, and several other emperors.In the phrase, "with great admiration," I judge that "admiration" in its modern sense is not quite the word. Admiring implies something akin to approving, and by no means expresses the amazement and probably even horror which this spectaclea woman drunk with bloodthe blood of innocent men and womenhad produced in his mind. Ah, he must have thought"and does this indicate the sufferings yet to be borne by the people of my Godthe blood yet to be shed of saints and martyrs, my own brethren?" And very probably his inquiring mind was still askingWho is this woman? What persecuting power does she represent?To this supposed attitude of his mind the angel really replies in the verses that follow. He kindly proposes to identify the woman and the beast upon which she sat, and his 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.
One of the first and most vital questions bearing upon the interpretation of this verse, and indeed of vs. 10, 11 as well, is this:What is the real present of these verbsthe "is not" as compared with the "was," etc.? Does the angel go back to chap. 13 to take up for further explanation what is said there of the one head mortally wounded, but from which wound the beast rallied again and all the world wondered; and was the temporary suspension of beast-life and power at that moment precisely the "is not" of this passage: or on the other hand, in these verses (8, 10, 11) is the ideal present the point after five had fallen, i. e., the precise present moment of the vision and of this explanation?This question is not without its difficulties, yet I on the whole conclude that in v. 8 and v. 11, the revealing angel falls back to the scenes and the present time of chap. 13; while in v. 10 he is not describing the scenes of chap. 13, but rather is giving exactly the then present status of the heads (alias kings) of the beast, so that in this one verse (viz. 10) the present is the time of this vision and of its explanation. I am driven to this conclusion by the manifest indications in v. 8 of allusions to the scenes of chap. 13: 1-8, 12, 14. "The beast that thou sawest" (i. e., as described 13: 1-8) and over which "all that dwell on the earth"not written in the book of lifewondered so greatly, the reader will notice identifies itself perfectly with the points made in chap. 13"All the world wondered after the beast" (v. 3); "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him whose names are not written in the book of life," etc. (v. 8). Those wonderful thingsthe beast mortally wounded in one of his heads, yet living again with more vigorous life than before; the great wonder excited by this circumstance and the world-wide homage given him;these points are brought up from chap 13 for further explanation and also to identify the beast of which he is to speak.Hence this beast is the Roman imperial power, the dynasty of the Caesars which began with Julius; which seemed to be smitten down when the sword felled him to the earth; which therefore had its brief period of not being ("is not") but which, to the astonishment of the world, revived again with more consolidated strength than ever before. The angel considering his present time to be that eventful moment said of the beast, "ascendeth," or more precisely, "shall soon ascend" [is just about to ascend] out of the bottomless pit;for the angel assumed that at death he went down there; but on his resuscitation came up again. "But he shall go into perdition," for this wonderful coming to life does not insure his immortality. He is destined to be hurled back in due time to his own place. Thus the angel predicts the fall of this Roman Power.The improved reading of the very last word of this v. 8 [parestai] has the sense"and is near"i. e., though for the moment you may say of him, "he is not," yet he was near and would soon be in life and power again.
9. And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth.
Here is scope for study, for deep, searching, discriminating thought. No one can hope to understand these matters without labor.It is remarkable that in chap. 13 we have at this precise point a very similar suggestion: "If any man have an ear, let him hear" (13: 9). These are matters of vital interest, but you must needs bend your ear intently if you would heargive your mind to deep thought if you would understand.The seven heads have a twofold significance, first applying to the geographical locality of the woman, alias the city which was the capital of this empire; and secondly, to the succession of her kings.It need not disturb us that in the scenes of a vision as in the scenes of a night dream, there should be a slight and sudden change or shifting of some of the aspects, as here in v. 3 the woman sits on the beast and in this v. 9 she sits on seven mountains. There is truth in both views, and they are by no means incongruous. Geographically she sat on the well-known seven hills of the great city, Rome; but politically, she sat on the seven-headed and ten-horned beast. These points are of prime importance to identify her in both these respectsher relation to place, and her relation to the great political powers of the world.
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.
I see no reason or room to doubt that the seven kings as well as the seven mountains have each their symbols in the seven heads of the beast. That is, those seven heads had a twofold reference; first to the geographical position of this great persecuting power; second, to his political history and character. The latter is the point explained here.No symbol can be more appropriate than this of a head or a horn upon a beast to denote the kings of a given dynasty or political power. The usage of Daniel is decisive to this point. In his visions (chaps. 7 and 8) horns upon a beast are divinely declared and historically shown to be kings in a political dynasty, or as the case may be, an empire. In these visions shown to John it is simply undeniable that Daniel's visionsbeasts and hornsare the antecedent types from which these symbols are taken. Hence the usage of beasts and horns in Daniel should determine their corresponding usage here.It need occasion no embarrassment that here we have heads as well as horns. There was a demand for both. The ten horns needed to be distinguished from the seven heads. A head is just as good as a horn for the symbol of an individual king.
"'There are seven kings." The symbol of the seven-headed beast embraces so manyno more. Of these "the five" (so the Greek has it), i. e., the first five are fallen; the one next in the order of succession is now on his throne; the other, to fill out the seven, is not yet come; but when he comes, he will have but a short reign.To all this, Roman history accords with perfect precision. This imperial dynasty began with Julius Caesar. After him reigned the other four who had then fallen, viz., Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudiusfive. All these had fallen at the point when this vision was being shown, and this explanation of it was being given. Nero was the sixth, then on the throne. Galba followed soon, and his "short space" was historically seven months.Thus with no forced construction but in a most easy and obvious application of the revealing angel's words, we have the great facts of Roman history precisely indicated. An explanation of prophetic symbols, divinely given, ought to tally with history easily and with great precision and accuracy. It surely will if you bring to it the right historyi. e., if you have the true application of the symbols to history. This history fits the angel's interpretation of these symbols perfectly. There can be no rational doubt, therefore, that this application of his symbols to history is the true one.
11. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
The seven heads are now disposed of; their history is finished. But the beast still lives. The exigencies and the convenience (we may perhaps say) of the symbols did not require a representation of more than seven heads. Whether this restriction was due to a certain attractive power in the number sevena power of usage or of popular taste which puts almost every thing in this book into sevens, it is of no special consequence to decide. But the verse before us plainly shows that the beast survives his seven headslives on after they have all fallen; and this I take it is precisely what the angel means to teach in this verse. Having taught us this fact, he drops the whole subject of the heads of the beast, and proceeds to speak of his ten horns.The manner in which he gives us this great fact of the continued life of the beast after the fall of his seven heads [kings] is very striking, yet very apposite. Thus: The beast who exhibited such marvelous vitality (as was shown in chap. 13)the beast "that was," and then seemed not to be, but yet revived again; the beast that every body thought was smitten dead in Julius Caesar, but which came to life again in Augustus; that beast which would not die, even he is the eighthhis life goes on after the seven heads have fallen; the beast himself is this eighth head [we no longer keep up the symbol of successive heads upon the beast] yet this beast is of the seven; he has essentially the same characteristics. There is no special change in this Roman dynasty. It lives under Vespasian, Titus, Commodus, Domitianbut we can not and need not trace their particular history farther. Suffice it to say that in God's glorious and righteous purpose, this beast is destined to go into perdition. Let the saints take courage. Imperial persecuting Rome is fatally doomed!
Before I pass on from this description of "the beast that was and is not," it may be due to the well-earned reputation of Prof. Stuart that I should notice his view of the reason why "is not" is affirmed of this seven-headed beast. He argues against and rejects the reference to Julius Caesar, but defends elaborately a supposed reference to Nero.Against the reference to Julius Caesar he urges(1.) That (in 13: 3) the words, "one of his heads," do not necessarily mean the first one. So far rightly. (2.) That according to the account (13: 3) this one head was not actually but only seemingly killed"as it were wounded to death." Whereas Julius Caesar was really killed; therefore the description does not apply to him.To which I answer: The account shows that the head received a mortal wound, but that to the astonishment of the world, the beast did not die of this wound, but rallied and lived on. Ordinarily a wound which destroys the life-functions of the head proves fatal to the animal; but in the case of this seven headed beast, this common law was strangely overruled. Therefore the historic facts respecting Julius Caesar correspond with admirable precision to the descriptive points made in chapter 13: 3, 12, 14.(3.) Prof. S. deems it conclusive against the opinion which I have presented, that "the beast in question was a fierce persecutor of the Christian church; whereas Julius Caesar perished about a century before persecution began."Perhaps it did not occur to Prof S. that he confounds the first head with the beast himself, and that this confusionthis unobserved substitution of the one for the other, is the only ground of his "conclusive" argument. No doubt this seven-headed beast was a fierce persecutor of the Christian church; but it is nowhere said that the first head was, or that the beast was during the reign of the first head. Prof. Stuart himself makes Julius the first of the seven heads, but has not deemed it incumbent upon himself therefore to prove that the beast was a fierce persecutor while this first head represented the beast and wielded his power.
Passing to the view maintained by Prof. S., viz., that this wounded head was Nero, it should be said that in his belief Nero was not in fact wounded mortally, much less really killed; but the soothsayers of his time had predicted that he would be slain, and would subsequently rise from the dead and resume his royal power. He does not even suppose that John believed this soothsaying fiction, but thinks it was currently believed in that age; and therefore the revealing angel spoke of this head as mortally wounded or even as killed, yet that the beast lived again.To this I reply that such honor shown to the hariolations of the Roman augurs by God's revealing angel is essentially incredible. If the angel had any occasion to refer to their predictions (a thing scarcely supposable) why did he not at least brand them as false and lying? This would have been in harmony with all he actually says of the false prophet (13: 13-15).With sincere and profound respect for Prof. Stuart, I yet can not regard this view of his as calling for any other answer.
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 remaining part of the chapter gives us the ten horns and their relation to the beast and to the harlot city.These ten horns seem to differ from the seven heads in two prominent respects:(1.) They are not strictly kings of Rome, but of foreign statesthose subjected or allied provinces which at some period "gave their power and strength to the beast" (v. 13); "gave their kingdom unto the beast until the words of God should be fulfilled" (v. 17); but at some other period turned against the harlot"shall hate the whore and make her desolate," etc. (v. 16).(2.) They appear to be mainly contemporaneous, not successive. At least they are represented as acting in concert; for awhile they have "received no kingdom as yet;" then, they "have power as kings one hour with the beast;" then, they "have all one mind, making war with the Lamb, and being over come"all as if one power, etc.Further, it would appear that they come forward upon the arena only after the seven heads have passed away. At the time of the vision, while the sixth head was in power, they had received no kingdom as yet. Also, the period of their co-operation with the beast was short"one hour." Yet for a time they work in full harmony with the beast, making war with the Lamb, carrying out the persecuting edicts issued from the Roman throne. To the joy of the church it is declared that even their combined power shall not prevail against the Lamb, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings; therefore though all the kings of the earth combine against him, he conquers. It was pertinent and inspiring to the faith of the first readers of this book to hear it said by this voice from heaven, "And they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." Under such appreciative and animating words, who could fail to say, So let us endure to the end; so let us fight the battles of our Great King! It is worth the universe to have such testimony from his lips that he appreciates our fidelity and endurance even unto blood.To the question, What nations and provinces are represented by these ten kings? I need only answer, The subjected, tributary and allied provinces generally during the ages referred to. I take "ten" to be a round, indefinite number, and am therefore by no means careful to find precisely that number; no more, no less. The student of Roman history will readily think of Spain, the Gauls, the Germans, the provinces of ancient Greece, of Western Asia, and of Egypt and Northern Africa.
15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
It might seem at first view that this allusion to the waters upon which the woman sat is out of place in the midst of an otherwise connected account of the ten kings. But a closer view will show it to be precisely in place. Rome sat on scores of subject thrones. She had brought within her walls the spoils, the standards, the enslaved captives, the conquered kings of a vast number of subject kingdoms, of various peoples, from every quarter of the then known and civilized world. It was over these subject kingdoms that the ten kings are supposed to reign. Hence this is precisely the place to refer to this great historic facther relations to her foreign conquests and to her now subject provinces.It will be noticed that this verse explains the last clause of v. 1"the great whore that sitteth upon many waters."
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 fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
The Sinaitic and Alexandrine manuscripts (not to mention others) concur in reading, not "upon the beast," but "and the beast" [not epi, but kai]. We have here therefore a new and remarkable fact respecting both the ten horns and the beast of which they form a part, viz., that they shall turn against this harlot city, shall make her desolate and naked, shall devour her flesh and burn her with fire. The "making naked" is the ancient prophetic threatening against the old harlot Jerusalem put with terrible force by Ezekiel (16: 36-39), and which is probably imitated here. So, burning with fire was the punishment definitely named by Ezekiel (16: 41); by Judah, as to be inflicted on Tamar (Gen. 38: 24); and by the Mosaic law, in the case of a priest's daughter guilty of whoredom (Lev. 21: 9). For similar reasons fire bears a prominent part in the judgment that fell on Great Babylon as defined in chap. 18. See vs. 8, 18.The historical meaning and fulfillment of this is that these outlying provinces, and apparently even the imperial power itself, shall in due time turn against the harlot city (Rome), and become the instrument in God's hand for her punishment. The agency of God in this case is deemed worthy of special notice"For God hath put it in their heart to fulfill his will, and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God shall be fulfilled." So God has been wont to make the wrath of man praise himself. All along the ages he has shown himself able to use with infinite facility Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians or Romans to execute his will in judgments upon the guilty. Hence first they appear in co-operation with the beast in making war with the Lamb (v. 14); and next, in hating the harlot city and bringing down the retributions of eternal justice upon her (vs. 16, 17). This seems to imply that in the course of events the beast and his ten horns no longer befriend and protect the city of Rome, but under the over-ruling hand of God turn with exterminating force against her. "The ten horns and the beast hate the whore and burn her with fire" (v. 16); the horns give their kingdom to the beast to fulfill the will of God in the destruction of the harlot city until God's retributions upon her are completed.Here the question will ariseTo what great facts of history can these points in this prophecy refer? I answer in generalthat the history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire testifies most amply that these outlying provinces and kingdoms, especially those of central Europe (Gauls, Germans, Goths, etc.) and of central Asia (the Parthians especially), became the terrible executioners of God's wrath upon old Rome. So much for the ten horns. But this is not all. The imperial power itself was transferred to Constantinople, and then became naturally the antagonist and desolator of Rome. It should be borne in mind also that the genius of the symbol requires that the beast should live in his ten horns, should work in and through them during their active life, just as the beast was in the seven heads, and wrought in and with them during their activity. Coupling this principle with the historic transfer of the imperial power to a rival city, we see no lack of historic fulfillment in these predictions taken in their most obvious sense.
18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
This verse precisely defines the woman seen in vision as described above (vs. 1-6). She represents precisely old Pagan Rome. The language can apply to no other city of those times. Regard should certainly be had to the present tense of this verb, "reigneth." The original Greek is, "which has or holds regal sway"a "kingdom," "over all the kings of the earth." No language could affirm more strongly than this that such was her then present status; that the angel speaks, not of some remotely future time, but of that very time when he was speaking. I touch this fact because it bears with resistless force against the theory which assumes this woman to be Papal Rome. For the temporal power of Rome Papal was never over the kings of all the earth, and it did not reach its maximum until nearly a thousand years after the time then presentthe true date of this book. Such forcing of prophetic words out of their natural and fixed sense should be sedulously avoided, not to say strongly reprobated.