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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 17 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER XVII

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

THIS chapter properly commences a more detailed description of the judgment inflicted on the formidable Antichristian power referred to in the last chapter, though under a new image. It contains an account of the sequel of the pouring out of the last vial, and the description, in various forms, continues to the close of chap. xix. The whole of this description (chap. xvii.-xix.) constitutes the last great catastrophe represented under the seventh vial, Re 16:17-21, at the close of which the great enemy of God and the church will be destroyed, and the church will be triumphant, Re 19:17-21. The image in this chapter is that of a harlot, or abandoned woman, on whom severe judgment is brought for her sins. The action is here delayed, and this chapter has much the appearance of an explanatory episode, designed to give a more clear and definite idea of the character of that formidable Antichristian power on which the judgment was to descend. The chapter, without any formal division, embraces the following points:—

(1.) Introduction, Re 17:1-3. One of the seven angels entrusted with the seven vials comes to John, saying that he would describe to him the judgment that was to come upon the great harlot with whom the kings of the earth had committed fornication, and who had made the dwellers upon the earth drunk by the wine of her fornication; that is, of that Antichristian power so often referred to in this book, which by its influence had deluded the nations, and brought their rulers under its control.

(2.) A particular description of this Antichristian powers represented as an abandoned and attractive female, in the usual attire of an harlot, Re 17:3-6. She is seated on a scarlet-coloured beast, covered over with blasphemous names—a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She is arrayed in the usual gorgeous and alluring attire of an harlot, clothed in purple, decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, with a golden cup in her hand full of abomination and filthiness. She has on her forehead a name expressive of her character. She is represented as drunken with the blood of the saints, and is such as to attract attention

(3.) An explanation of what is meant by this scarlet-clothed woman, and of the design of the representation, Re 17:7-18. This comprises several parts:

(a) A promise of the angel that he would explain this, Re 17:7.

(b) An enigmatical or symbolical representation of the design of the vision, Re 17:8-14. This description consists of an account of the beast on which the woman sat, Re 17:8; of the seven heads of the beast, as representing seven mountains, Re 17:9; of the succession of kings or dynasties represented, Re 17:9-11; of the ten horns as representing ten kings or kingdoms giving their power and strength to the beast, Re 17:12-13; and of the conflict or warfare of all these confederated or consolidated powers with the Lamb, and their discomfiture by him, Re 7:14.

(c) A more literal statement of what is meant by this, Re 17:15-18. The waters on which the harlot sat represent a multitude of people subject to her control, Re 17:15. The ten horns, or the ten kingdoms, on the beast, would ultimately hate the harlot, and destroy her, as if they should eat her flesh, and consume her with fire, Re 17:16. This would be done because God would put it into their hearts to fulfil his purposes, alike in giving their kingdom to the beast, and then turning against it to destroy it, Re 17:17. The woman referred to is at last declared to be the great city which reigned over the kings of the earth, Re 17:18. For particularity and definiteness, this is one of the most remarkable chapters in the book, and there can be no doubt that it was the design in it to give such an explanation of what was referred to in these visions, that there could be no mistake in applying the description. "All that remains between this and the twentieth chapter," says Andrew Fuller, "would in modern publications be called notes of illustration. No new subject is introduced, but mere enlargement on what has already been announced."— Works, vi. 205.

Verse 1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials. See Barnes on "Re 15:1, 7".

Reference is again made to these angels in the same manner in Re 21:9, where one of them says that he would show to John "the bride, the Lamb's wife." No particular one is specified. The general idea seems to be, that to those seven angels was entrusted the execution of the last things, or the winding up of affairs introductory to the reign of God, and that the communications respecting those last events were properly made through them. It is clearly quite immaterial by which of these it is done. The expression "which had the seven vials" would seem to imply that though they had emptied the vials in the manner stated in the previous chapter, they still retained them in their hands.

And talked with me. Spake to me. The word talk would imply a more protracted conversation than occurred here.

Come hither. Gr., deuro—"here, hither." This is a word merely calling the attention, as we should say now "here." It does not imply that John was to leave the place where he was.

I will show thee. Partly by symbols, and partly by express statements: for this is the way in which, in fact, he showed him.

The judgment. The condemnation and calamity that will come upon her.

Of the great whore. It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent a city under the image of a woman—a pure and holy city under the image of a virgin or chaste female; a corrupt, idolatrous, and wicked city under the image of an abandoned or lewd woman. See Barnes on "Isa 1:21"

"How is the faithful city become an harlot." Compare Barnes on "Isa 1:8".

In Re 16:18 it is expressly said that "this woman is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth"—that is, as I suppose, Papal Rome; and the design here is to represent it as resembling an abandoned female— fit representative of an apostate, corrupt, unfaithful church. Compare Barnes on "Re 9:21".

That sitteth upon many waters. An image drawn either from Babylon, situated on the Euphrates, and encompassed by the many artificial rivers which had been made to irrigate the country, or Rome, situated on the Tiber. In Re 16:15, these waters are said to represent the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues over which the government symbolized by the woman ruled. See Barnes on "Re 16:15".

Waters are often used to symbolize nations.

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