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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 17 - Verse 11

Verse 11. And the beast that was, and is not. That is, the one power that was formerly mighty; that died away so that it might be said to be extinct; and yet (Re 17:8) that "still is," or has a prolonged existence. It is evident that by the "beast" here there is some one power, dominion, empire, or rule, whose essential identity is preserved through all these changes, and to which it is proper to give the same name. It finds its termination—or its last form—in what is here called the "eighth;" a power which, it is observed, sustains such a peculiar relation to the seven that it may be said to be "of the seven," or to be a mere prolongation of the same sovereignty.

Even he is the eighth. The eighth in the succession. This form of sovereignty, though a mere prolongation of the former government—so much so as to be in fact but keeping up the same empire in the world, appears in such a novelty of form that in one sense it deserves to be called the eighth in order, and yet is so essentially a mere concentration and continuance of the one power, that in the general reckoning (Re 17:10) it might be regarded as pertaining to the former. There was a sense in which it was proper to speak of it as the eighth power; and yet, viewed in its relation to the whole, it so essentially combined and concentrated all that there was in the seven, that, in a general view, it scarcely metired a separate mention. We should look for the fulfilment of this in some such concentration and embodiment of all that it was in the previous forms of sovereignty referred to, that it perhaps would deserve mention as an eighth power, but that it was nevertheless such a mere prolongation of the previous forms of the one power, that it might be said to be "of the seven;" so that, in this view, it would not claim a separate consideration. This seems to be the fair meaning; though there is much that is enigmatical in the form of the expression.

And goeth into perdition. See Barnes on "Re 17:8".

 

In inquiring now into the application of this very difficult passage, it may be proper to suggest some of the principal opinions which have been held, and then to endeavour to ascertain the true meaning.

I. The principal opinions which have been held may be reduced to the following:—

(1.) That the seven kings here refer to the succession of Roman emperors, yet with some variation as to the manner of reckoning. Prof. Stuart begins with Julius Caesar, and reckons them in this manner: the "five that are fallen" are Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius. Nero, who, as he supposes, was the reigning prince at the time when the book was written, he regards as the sixth; Galba, who succeeded him, as the seventh. Others, who adopt this literal method of explaining it, suppose that the time begins with Augustus, and then Galba would be the sixth, and Otho, who reigned but three months, would be the seventh. The expression, "the beast that was, and is not, who is the eighth," Prof. Stuart regards as referring to a general impression among the heathen and among Christians, in the time of the persecution under Nero, that he would again appear after it was reported that he was dead, or that he would rise from the dead and carry on his persecution again. See Prof. Stuart, Com. vol. ii. Excur. iii. The beast, according to this view, denotes the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, and the reference in Re 17:8 is to "the well-known hariolation respecting Nero, that he would be assassinated, and would disappear for awhile, and then make his appearance again to the confusion of all his enemies." "What the angel," says he, "says, seems to be equivalent to this: The beast means the Roman emperors, specifically Nero, of whom the report spread throughout the empire that he will revive, after being apparently slain, and will come, as it were, from the abyss or Hades, but he will perish, and that speedily,'" vol ii. p. 323.

(2.) That the word "kings" is not to be taken literally, but that it refers to forms of government, dynasties, or modes of administration. The general opinion among those who hold this view is, that the first six refer to the forms of the Roman government:

(1) kings;

(2) consuls;

(3) dictators;

(4) decemvirs;

(5) military tribunes;

(6) the imperial form, beginning with Augustus. This has been the common Protestant interpretation, and in reference to these six forms of government, there has been a general agreement. But, while the mass of Protestant interpreters have supposed that the "six" heads refer to these forms of administration, there has been much diversity of opinion as to the seventh; and here, on this plan of interpretation, the main, if not the sole difficulty lies. Among the opinions held are the following:—

(a) That of Mr. Mede. He makes the seventh head what he calls the "Demi-Caesar," or the "Western emperor who reigned after the division of the empire into East and West, and which continued, after the last division under Honorins and Arcadius, about sixty years—a short space."—Works, book iii. chap. 8; book v. chap. 12.

(b) That of Bishop Newton, who regards the sixth or imperial "head" as continuing uninterruptedly through the line of Christian as well as Pagan emperors, until Augustulus and the Heruli; and the seventh to be the Dukedom of Rome established soon after under the exarchate of Ravenna.—Prophecies, pp. 575, 576.

(c) That of Dr. More and Mr. Cunninghame, who suppose the Christian emperors, from Constantine to Augustulus, to constitute the seventh head, and that this had its termination by the sword of the Hernil.

(d) That of Mr. Elliott, who supposes the seventh head or power to refer to a new form of administration introduced by Diocletian, changing the administration from the original imperial character to that of an absolute Asiatic sovereignty. For the important changes introduced by Diocletian that justify this remark, see the "Decline and Fall," vol i. pp. 212-217.

Numerous other solutions may be found in Poole's Synopsis, but these embrace the principal, and the most plausible that have been proposed.

II. I proceed, then, to state what seems to me to be the true explanation. This must be found in some facts that will accord with the explanation given of the meaning of the passage.

(1.) There can be no doubt that this refers to Rome—either Pagan, Christian, or Papal. All the circumstances combine in this; all respectable interpreters agree in this. This would be naturally understood by the symbols used by John, and by the explanations furnished by the angel. See Re 17:18: "And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." Every circumstance combines here in leading to the conclusion that Rome is intended. There was no other power or empire on the earth to which this could be properly applied; there was everything in the circumstances of the writer to lead us to suppose that this was referred to; there is an utter impossibility now in applying the description to anything else.

(2.) It was to be a revived power; not a power in its original form and strength. This is manifest, because it is said (Re 17:8) that the power represented by the beast "was, and is not, and yet is:" that is, it was once a mighty power; it then declined so that it could be said that "it is not;" and yet there was so much remaining vitality in it, or so much revived power, that it could be said that it "still is"— kaiper estin. Now, this is strictly applicable to Rome when the Papal power arose. The old Roman might had departed; the glory and strength evinced in the days of the consuls, the dictators, and the emperors, had disappeared; and yet there was a lingering vitality, and a reviving of power under the Papacy, which made it proper to say that it still continued, or that that mighty power was prolonged. The civil power connected with the Papacy was a revived Roman power—the Roman power prolonged under another form—for it is susceptible of clear demonstration that if it had not been for the rise of the Papal power, the sovereignty of Rome as such would have been wholly extinct. For the proof of this, see the passages quoted in Barnes on "Re 17:3".

Compare Barnes on "Re 13:3,12,15".

 

(3.) It was to be a power emanating from the "abyss," or that would seem to ascend from the dark world beneath. See Re 17:8. This was true in regard to the Papacy, either

(a) as apparently ascending from the lowest state and the most depressed condition, as if it came up from below, (see Barnes on "Re 17:3, compare Re 13:11;) or

(b) as, in fact, having its origin in the world of darkness, and being under the control of the prince of that world—which, according to all the representations of that formidable Antichristian power in the Scriptures, is true, and which the whole history of the Papacy, and of its influence on religion, confirms.

(4.) One of the powers referred to sustained the other. "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth," Re 17:9. That is, the power represented by the harlot was sustained or supported by the power represented by the seven heads or the seven mountains. Literally applied, this would mean that the Papacy, as an ecclesiastical institution, was sustained by the civil power with which it was so closely connected. For the illustration and support of this, see Barnes on "Re 13:2-3,12,15".

In the Notes on those passages, it is shown that the support was mutual; that while the Papacy in fact revived the almost extinct Roman civil power, and gave it new vitality, the price of that was that it should be in its turn sustained by that revived Roman civil power. All history shows that that has been the fact; that in all its aggressions, assumptions, and persecutions, it has in fact, and professedly, leaned on the arm of the civil power.

(5.) A more important inquiry, and a more serious difficulty, remains in respect to the statements respecting the "seven kings," Re 17:10-11. The statements on this point are, that the whole number properly was seven; that of this number five had fallen or passed away; that one was in existence at the time when the author wrote; that another one was yet to appear who would continue for a little time; and that the general power represented by all these would be embodied in the "beast that was, and is not," and that might, in some respects, be regarded as an "eighth." These points may be taken up in their order.

(a) The first inquiry relates to the five that were fallen and the one that was then in existence—the first six. These may be taken together, for they are manifestly of the same class, and have the same characteristics, at least so far as to be distinguished from the "seventh," and the "eighth." The meaning of the word "kings" here has been already explained, Re 17:10. It denotes ruling power, or forms of power; and, so far as the signification of the word is concerned, it might be applicable to royalty, or to any other form of administration. It is not necessary, then, to find an exact succession of princes or kings that would correspond with this—five of whom were dead, and one of whom was then on the throne, and all soon to be succeeded by one more who would soon die.

The true explanation of this seems to be that which refers this to the forms of the Roman government or administration. These six "heads" or forms of administration were, in their order, Kings, Cansuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, and Emperors. Of these, five had passed away in the time when John wrote the Apocalypse; the sixth, the Imperial, was then in power, and had been from the time of Augustus Caesar. The only questions that can be raised are, whether these forms of administration were so distinct and prominent, and whether in the tunes previous to John they so embraced the whole Roman power, as to justify this interpretation; that is, whether these forms of administration were so marked in this respect that it may be supposed that John would use the language here employed in describing them. As showing the probability that he would use this language, I refer to the following arguments, viz.:

(1.) The authority of Livy, lib. vi. cap. 1. Speaking of the previous parts of his history, and of what he had done in writing it, he says, "Quae ab condita urbe Roma ad captam eandem urbem Romani sub regibus primurn, consulibus deinde ac dictatoribus, decemviris ac tribunis consularibus gossere, foris bella, domi seditiones, quinque libris exposui." That is, "In five books I have related what was done at Rome, pertaining both to foreign wars and domestic strifes, from the foundation of the city to the time when it was taken, as it was governed by kings, by consuls, by dictators, by the decemvirs, and by consular tribunes." Here he mentions five forms of administration under which Rome had been governed in the earlier periods of its history. The imperial power had a later origin, and did not exist until near the time of Livy himself.

(2.) The same distribution of power, or forms of government, among the Romans, is made by Tacitus, Annal., lib. i. cap. 1: "Urbem Romam a principio Reges habuere. Libertatem et Consulatum L. Brutus instituit. Dictaturae ad tempus sumebantur. Neque Decemviralis potestas ultra, biennium, neque tribunorum militum consulare jus diu vasuit. Non Cinnae, non Syllae longa dominatio: et Pompeii Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in Augustum cessere; qui cuncta, discordiis civilibus fessa, nomine Principis sub imperium accepit." That is, "In the beginning, Rome was governed by Kings. Then L. Brutus gave to her liberty and the Consulship. A temporary power was conferred on the Dictators. The authority of the Decemvirs did not continue beyond the space of two years; neither was the consular power of the Military Tribunes of long duration. The rule of Cinna and Sylla was brief, and the power of Pompey and Crassus passed into the hands of Caesar, and the arms of Lepidus and Antony were surrendered to Augustus, who united all things, broken by civil discord, under the name of Prince in the imperial government." Here Tacitus distinctly mentions the six forms of administration that had prevailed in Rome, the last of which was the imperial. It is true, also, that he mentions the brief rule of certain men—as Cinna, Sylla, Antony, and Lepidus; but these are not forms of administration, and their temporary authority did not indicate any change in the government—for some of these men were dictators, and none of them, except Brutus and Augustus, established any permanent form of administration.

(3.) The same thing is apparent in the usual statements of history, and the books that describe the forms of government at Rome. In so common a book as Adams' Roman Antiquities, a description may be found of the forms of Roman administration that corresponds almost precisely with this. The forms of supreme power in Rome, as enumerated there, are what are called ordinary and extraordinary magistrates. Under the former are enumerated kings, consuls, praetors, censors, quaestors, and tribunes of the people. But of these, in fact, the supreme power was vested in two, for there were, under this, but two forms of administration— that of kings and consuls—the offices of praetor, censor, quaestor, and tribune of the people being merely subordinate to that of the consuls, and no more a new form of administration than the offices of Secretary of the State, of War, of the Navy, of the Interior, are now. Under the latter—that of extraordinary magistrates—are enumerated Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, and the Interrex. But the Interrex did not constitute a form of administration, or a change of government, any more than when the President or Vice-president of the United States should die, the performance of the duties of the office of President by the Speaker of the Senate would indicate a change, or than the Regency of the Prince of Wales in the time of George III. constituted a new form of government. So that, in fact, we have enumerated, as constituting the supreme power at Rome, kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, and military tribunes—five in number. The imperial power was the sixth.

(4.) In confirmation of the same thing, I may refer to the authority of Bellarmine, a distinguished Roman Catholic writer. In his work De Pontiff., cap. 2, he thus enumerates the changes which the Roman government had experienced, or the forms of administration that had existed there:

1. Kings;

2. Consuls;

3. Decemvirs;

4. Dictators;

5. Military Tribunes with consular power;

6. Emperors. See Poole's Synop., in loc. And

(5) it may be added, that this would be understood by the contemporaries of John in this sense. These forms of government were so marked that, in connexion with the mention of the "seven mountains," designating the city, there could be no doubt as to what was intended. Reference would at once be made to the Imperial power as then existing, and the mind would readily and easily turn back to the five main forms of the supreme administration which had existed before:

(b) The next inquiry is, what is denoted by the seventh. If the word "kings" here refers, as is supposed, (Barnes on "Re 17:10,) to a form of government or administration; if the "five" refer to the forms previous to the imperial, and the "sixth" to the imperial; and if John wrote during the imperial government, then it follows that this must refer to some form of administration that was to succeed the imperial. If the Papacy was "the eighth, and of the seven," then it is clear that this must refer to some form of civil administration lying between the decline of the Imperial and the rise of the Papal power: that "short space"—for it was a short space that intervened. Now, there can be no difficulty, I think, in referring this to that form of administration over Rome—that "dukedom" under the exarchate of Ravenna, which succeeded the decline of the Imperial power, and which preceded the rise of the Papal power;—between the year 566 or 568, when Rome was reduced to a dukedom, under the exarchate of Ravenna, and the time when the city revolted from this authority and became subject to that of the Pope, about the year 727. This period continued, according to Mr. Gibbon, about two hundred years. He says, "During a period of two hundred years, Italy was unequally divided between the kingdom of the Lombards and the exarchate of Ravenna. The offices and professions, which the jealousy of Constantine had separated, were united by the indulgence of Justinian; and eighteen successive exarchs were invested, in the decline of the empire, with the full remains of civil, of military and even of ecclesiastical power. Their immediate jurisdiction, which was afterwards consecrated as the patrimony of St. Peter, extended over the modern Remagna, the marshes or valleys of Ferrara and Commachio, five maritime cities from Rimini to Ancona, and a second inland Pentapolis, between the Adriatic coast and the hills of the Appenine. The duchy of Rome appears to have included the Tuscan, Sabine, and Latian conquests, of the first four hundred years of the city, and the limits may be distinctly traced along the coast, from Civita Vecchia to Terracina, and with the course of the Tiber from Areerin and Narni to the port of Ostia."—Dec. and Fall, iii. 202. How accurate is this if it be regarded as a statement of a new power or form of administration that succeeded the imperial—a power that was in fact a prolongation of the old Roman authority, and that was designed to constitute and embody it all! Could Mr. Gibbon have furnished a better commentary on the passage if he had adopted the interpretation of this portion of the Apocalypse above proposed, and if he had designed to describe this as the seventh power in the successive forms of the Roman administration? It is worthy of remark, also, that of this account in Mr. Gibbon's history immediately precedes the account the rise of the Papacy; the record respecting the exarchate, and that concerning Gregory the Great, described by Mr. Gibbon as "the Saviour of Rome," occurring in the same chapter.—Vol, iii. 202-211.

(c) This was to "continue for a short space"—for a little time. If this refers to the power to which in the remarks above it is supposed to refer, it is easy to see the propriety of this statement. Compared with the previous form of administration—the imperial—it was of short duration; absolutely considered, it was brief. Mr. Gibbon (iii. 202) has marked it as extending through "a period of two hundred years;" and if this is compared with the form of administration which preceded it, extending to more than five hundred years, and more especially with that which followed—the Papal form—which has extended now some twelve hundred years, it will be seen with what propriety this is spoken of as continuing for "a short space."

(d) "The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven," Re 17:11. If the explanations above given are correct, there can be no difficulty in the application of this to the Papal power; for

(1) all this power was concentrated in the Papacy, all that revived or prolonged Roman power had now passed into the Papacy, constituting that mighty dominion which was to be set up for so many centuries over what had been the Roman world. See the statements of Mr. Gibbon, (iii. 207-211,) as quoted in Barnes on "Re 17:3".

Compare also, particularly, the remarks of Augustine Steuchus, a Roman Catholic writer, as quoted in Barnes on "Re 17:3"

: "The empire having been overthrown, unless God had raised up the Pontificate. Rome, resuscitated and restored by none, would have become uninhabitable, and been thenceforward a most foul habitation of cattle. But in the Pontificate it revived as with a second birth; in empire or magnitude not indeed equal to the old empire, but its form not very dissimilar: because all nations, from East and from West, venerate the Pope, not otherwise than they before obeyed the emperor."

(2.) This was an eighth power or form of administration-for it was different, in many respects, from that of the kings, the consuls, the dictators, the decemvirs, the military tribunes, the emperors, and the dukedom—though it comprised substantially the power of all. Indeed, it could not have been spoken of as identical with either of the previous forms of administration, though it concentrated the power which had been wielded by them all.

(3.) It was "of the seven;" that is, it pertained to them; it was a prolongation of the same power. It had the same central seat—Rome; it extended over the same territory, and it embraced sooner or later the same nations. There is not one of those forms of administration which did not find a prolongation in the Papacy; for it aspired after, and succeeded in obtaining, all the authority of kings, dictators, consuls, emperors. It was in fact still the Roman sceptre swayed over the of world; and with the strictest propriety it could be said that it was "of the seven," as having sprung out of the seven, and as this, see perpetuating the sway of this mighty domination. For full illustration See Barnes on "Da 7:1"

and Revelation 13.

(4.) It would "go into perdition;" that is, it would be under this form that this mighty domination that had for so many ages ruled over the earth would die away, or this would be the last in the series, The Roman dominion, as such, would not be extended to a ninth, or tenth, or eleventh form, but would finally expire under the eighth. Every indication shows that this is to be so, and that with the decline of the Papal power the whole Roman domination, that has swayed a sceptre for two thousand five hundred years, will have come for ever to an end. If this is so, then we have found an ample and exact application of this passage even in its most minute specifications.

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