Revelation 17: 1-18
At the outset, let me say that this is a controversial chapter. Catholics and Protestants understand the chapter in a different light. In the first six verses, John received a vision which may be the most remarkable vision in the entire book of Revelation. In the humble opinion of this writer, this vision is the key to understanding many other visions in this book. John was presented with a picture of a woman sitting on a monstrous, scarlet colored beast, having seven heads and ten horns, and it was full of names of blasphemy. Blasphemy is any irreverent, disrespectful remark or action which mocks God or shows contempt for God. Sitting on this beast was a woman riding the beast, and the beast was under her control. She is gloriously and extravagantly arrayed and was a sight to behold. She is dressed in scarlet and purple, for she sits as a ruling queen. She is a queen, not just of a single nation, but she is the queen of all nations of the earth.
The most astonishing thing about this woman is that she is called a harlot. The word harlot is another word for a prostitute; but she is no ordinary prostitute, for she commits fornication with all the kings and nations of the entire earth. She was at one time the bride of Christ but fosook Him. . The whole world fell in love with her. In addition, she had in her hand a golden cup that was full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication This is metaphorical language and referred to spiritual or religious fornication. . In some remarkable way she made the whole earth drink. the wine of her fornication. In some way her evil influence was world-wide. Furthermore a name was written on her forehead. This was her name, “Mystery, Babylon the the Mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” This was not her literal name but her symbolical name. She received a symbolic name after one of the most famous cities of the ancient world that ruled all nations of the world. There must have been some similarities to ancient Babylon. Whoever this woman was, she was in trouble with God. She had become unfaithful to Him. In some way this woman is connected with Jehovah God and the Christian religion. Finally, the woman was drunk but not literally drunk. She was not drunk with alcohol, but with the blood of faithful Christians, with the blood of Christian martyrs. For this all powerful woman to be drinking the blood of Christians must have been most repulsive to the aged apostle John, who was exercising apostolic oversight of the
Church of Christ at the close of the first century A..D. Who does this woman symbolize? Whor or what does she represent, for she is a symbolic figure?. Where does she live? When did she exercise all this influence and power over the human race.
WHAT THE COMMENTARIES SAY
Before anyone should arrive at a conclusion on such a complicated and difficult passage of scripture, it would be wise for those of us who have a limited knowledge of the Bible to listen to Bible scholars who have qualified themselves to write commentaries on the Bible and have given deep study to this chapter in the Bible. We begin first with the Commentary of the Holy Spirit who inspired John to write this chapter. The Holy Spirit is an inspired Commentator. Therefore, His commentary is the greatest of all commentaries. What explanation does the Holy Spirit give us on the identification of this woman? . In Revelation 17:9 the Holy Spirit said of this beast on which the woman sat, “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.” In verse 18 of this same chapter the Holy Spirit says, “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” According to the Author who inspired John to write about thi s woman, He said this woman represents a great city which is built on seven hills, and it was the city that reigned over the kings of the earth in the day when the apostle John lived. (verse 18).
These two verses give us a positive identification. Rome was known from ancient times as the famous seven-hilled city. The main part of the city of Rome is built on a famous group o f s even hills. The two most famous hills were the Capitoline hill and the Palatine hill. The Palatine hill was famous because it was the residence of the Roman Emperors. The English word palace is derived from the word Palatine. Furthermore, she is identified as the city who was reigning over the kings of the earth at the time John wrote these words. The city of Rome ruled over all the kings of the earth from 43 B.C. to about 1600 or 1700 A..D., under two different forms. Rome first ruled the world under the Caesars and then under the Popes of Rome. Therefore, this much the scripture has settled for us. None of us have the right to disagree with the Spirit's interpretation. This woman of Revelation 17 represents the city of Rome and no other city. No preach er or teacher has a right to disagree with what God says.. This is not opinion, for all scripture is inspired of God. Let us all
agree on this much that this woman is a symbolic representation of the famous city of Rome, Italy.. Next, let us consider what notable Bible scholars have to say about this remarkable woman.
.THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA
One of the most prominent Commentaries in the religious world is The Catholic Encyclopedia. It is an International work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic
church. It consists of fifteen volumes. In volume 1, page 598 it makes this statement about the woman on this beast, “Such persons as Mohamet, the Pope, Napoleon, etc., have in turn been identified with the beast and the harlot. To the reformers(Protestants,L.B) particularly the Apocalypse was an inexhaustible quarry where to dig for invectives that they might hurl them at the Roman hierarchy. The seven hills of Rome, the scarlet robes of the Cardinals, and unfortunate abuses of the papal court made the application easy and tempting. The beast from the sea that had plenitude of power from the dragon, or Satan, is the Roman Empire, or rather Caesar, its supreme representative....The seven heads of the beast are seven Emperors.”
I can't emphasize strongly enough the importance of this statement from the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia. If you will go back and read that statement carefully, you will discover the two most important and most plausible explanations ever given of Revelation 17. One is the Roman Catholic interpretation, and the other is the Protestant interpretation. According the Roman Catholic scholars this harlot woman represents the Pagan Roman Empire under the Caesars, and the false religion of Paganism(43 B.C. to 476 A..D.). This is the official interpretation of the Roman Catholic church. The woman does indeed refer to Rome and no one else. However. the official Catholic interpretation is this woman represents the false pagan religion of Rome when the Caesars ruled the world, not Papal Rome.
Contrariwise, according to the Protestant Reformers of the 1600's, who broke away from the Catholic church and her teachings, this woman represents Papal Rome and not Pagan Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that one explanation given of this woman in Revelation 17 is the Papal church, and they have had to answer this charge The Protestant reformers created a division in the Christian religion between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism which continues to this present time, and it all revolves around this woman in Revelation 17 and who she is. All those other interpretations of the
Revelation who reject the Historical Interpretation disagree with the best Roman Catholic scholars, the best Protestant Bible scholars and many non-denominational Bible scholars. The Protest Reformers, beginning with Martin Luther and many others, maintain this woman represents the Roman Catholic church with its idolatrous, innovative and tradition bound worship system, including the the worship of Mary, bowing down to deaf and dumb statues, a religious hierarchy of priests with the power to forgive sins, making the Pope the head of the church and the High Priest on earth, and many other teachings contrary to the teachings of the New Testament. They maintain Papal Rome is not the true church Jesus built; but rather represents a departure from the original religion of Christ. The departure and falling away from the faith once delivered to the saints occurred about 500 A..D. and continued through the Dark Ages (500 A.D. to 1600 A.D.).
Protestant scholars maintain the evidence is conclusive that woman on he scarlet beast represents the Catholic church under the reign of the Popes. I would suggest to you that you need to look not further on this subject. We are indebted to the Catholic scholars for setting before us the only two plausible explanations of this chapter. This woman is Pagan Rome or Papal Rome. Religious teachers who try to give some other explanation are just wandering in the dark and are confusing the minds of the followers of Christ and the people of the world in general. Modern day preachers are teaching that there are four different and conflicting interpretationss on this subject, and no one knows which is the true interpretation. There are not four different reasonable explanations; there are only two. This woman is either Pagan religion under Imperial Rome(43 B.C. to 476 A.D.), or she is Roman Catholic religion under Papal Rome.(500 A.D. to 1500-1600 A.D.} All would be wise not even to consider any other possible explanations. We have heard from the supreme Catholic authority. Let us not reject what the greatest minds in the Protestant world think about the woman called a harlot.
The British scholar Bishop Thomas Newton in his book, Dissertations on the Prophecies, said, “Little doubt remains what idolatrous church is meant by the “the harlot of Babylon. But for the better assuredness it is added by the angel (Verse 18), `The woman which thou sawest is that great city.' The angel had undertaken to tell the
the mystery of the beast and of his seven heads and ten horns, and his explanation of the mystery of the woman is `that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” And what city at the time of the vision reigned over the kings of the earth, but Rome? She hath too ever since reigned over the kings of the earth, if not with temporal, yet at least with spiritual authority, . Rome therefore is evidently and undeniably this great city, and that Christian and not Heathen, papal and not Imperial Rome was meant ”Dissertations On The Prophecies (Page 577} Such were the comments of British scholar, Thomas Newton..
John T. Hinds in his commentary on the Revelation said of this drunken woman, “An unfaithful wife typically represents an apostate church–those once God's people, but who have corrupted themselves with idolatry and human doctrines.”(A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, P. 247) B.W. Johnson in his commentary said about this woman who was drunk with the blood of Christians, “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 engaged in persecutions, but there is only one self-styled Christian body on the earth of whom it can be said she was drunken with the blood of the saints'”(The People's New Testament, P. 485.
It is the responsibility of every follower of Christ to make a decision on the woman sitting on this beast. Is she Pagan Rome or is she the Papal church?.