Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 17

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Apocalypse 17

Supplemental Commentary:

VI.  BABYLON THE GREAT  17, 1 -- 19, 10

17, 1-6:  The Woman on the Scarlet Beast.  The great harlot: the impure city where idolatry and false worship flourish.  Sits on many waters: her dominion extends over many peoples.  Many kings have been seduced by her, they have fallen under the spell of her obscene idolatries.  Why did John wonder?  Was it because of the splendor of the woman, or because of the blasphemous names?

17, 7-18:  The Angel's Explanation.  The mystery: i.e., the hidden meaning of the woman and the beast.  In this explanation the beast is identified with the beast of 13.  The wound of 13 is expressed in the words, was and is not.  Seven kings: the thought is that the beast united itself with seven great kings; these all eventually fell; thus the beast itself is left as an eighth, then he goes to destruction.  Ten horns: they are kings who have not yet risen to power.  For one hour: i.e., a short time.

The angel's explanation of the vision is rather a figurative interpretation of the symbols.  Babylon, as a symbol, was the great city whose splendor and power dazzled and then destroyed Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Against Babylon the voices of the prophets had been lifted.  Cf. Isa. 39, 7 f; 13, 19; 21, 9.  In her hostility to Jerusalem she became a type of the later corrupt powers.  In this vision Babylon stands for Rome, the center of idolatry and immorality, the seat of a world power that dominated kings and peoples.  Rome in turn serves as a type of all those later powers that war against Christ and His Church.

The beast, as in 13, symbolizes pagan Rome either in her successive kingdoms or in her succession of Emperors who embody the imperial power.  It is on the beast, i.e., the Empire, that the woman, Rome, is seated.  The seven mountains are the seven hills of Rome.  The beast can further be identified as Nero.  The kings are the Roman Emperors, but it is not easy to say which individuals are meant.  The common opinion holds the five to be Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero.  The one who is would thus be Vespasian.  The one yet to come is Titus.  The eighth then is Domitian.  The popular rumor had it that Nero would return again, typically; thus Domitian is a second Nero.  A case can be made for this view, and yet it is open to serious objection.  The first four Emperors were not serious adversaries of the Church.  Moreover, Domitian did not drag down the Empire to ruin.  It was at the time of Nero that the Roman Empire began its endeavor to swallow up the Church.  It would seem, therefore, that the series of kings should begin with him.  The five fallen kings would thus be Nero, Galba or Otho, Otho or Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus; the sixth would be Domitian; the seventh, who is to reign a short time, is an unnamed king, a successor of Domitian.  He is not determined, but alluded to in order to justify the framework of the figure seven.  The eighth is likewise not clearly determined.  He is one in the series of innumerable successors of the seventh, and includes within himself all their ferocious vitality.  He reproduces the persecuting power of Nero, the head which was wounded and healed, Nero revived, with which the beast of the sea is identified.

Some think the ten kings, represented by the ten horn, are the barbarians who will attack and destroy Rome.  At first they will persecute the Church, but later they will turn upon and destroy Rome.  This does not mean that they will cease to persecute the Church.  These kingdoms are given to the beast and therefore war against the Lamb.  But the Lamb will overcome them, and the kingdoms of the earth will finally disappear.

Confraternity Bible:

The Woman on the Scarlet Beast  1 And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, and he spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show thee the condemnation of the great harlot who sits upon many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality."

3 And he took me away in spirit into a desert.  And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  4 And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and covered with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the uncleanness of her immorality.  5* And upon her forehead a name written---a mystery---Babylon the great, mother of the harlotries and of the abominations of the earth.  6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  And when I saw her, I wondered with a great wonder.

The Angel's Explanation  7 And the angel said to me, "Wherefore dost thou wonder?  I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her which has the seven heads and the ten horns.  8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and is about to come up from the abyss, and will go to destruction.  And the inhabitants of the earth---whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world---will wonder when they see the beast which was, and is not.  9 And here is the meaning for him who has wisdom.  The seven heads are seven mountains upon which the woman sits; and they are seven kings; 10 five of them have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a short time.  11* And the beast that was, and is not, is moreover himself eighth, and is of the seven, and is on his way to destruction.

12* "And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have not received a kingdom as yet, but they will receive authority as kings for one hour with the beast.  13 These have one purpose, and their power and authority they give to the beast.  14 These will fight with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is the Lord of lords, and the King of kings, and they who are with him, called, and chosen, and faithful."

15 And he said to me, "The waters that thou sawest where the harlot sits, are peoples and nations and tongues.  16 And the ten horns that thou sawest, and the beast, these will hate the harlot, and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh, and will burn her up in fire.  17 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose, to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are accomplished.  18 And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city which has kingship over the kings of the earth."


5: A mystery: the name is not literal but symbolical and its meaning will be revealed in due time.

11: The beast spoken of here seems to be the Roman Empire.

12: One hour: ten other kingdoms are allies of the beast and battle against the Church.  But their dominion is short.