Revelation 17 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Revelation 17)

Verse 1

[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:

And there came one of the seven angels, saying, Come hither — This relation concerning the great whore, and that concerning the wife of the Lamb, Revelation 21:9,10, have the same introduction, in token of the exact opposition between them.

I will show thee the judgment of the great whore — Which is now circumstantially described.

That sitteth as a queen — In pomp, power, ease, and luxury.

Upon many waters — Many people and nations, verse 15. Revelation 17:15

Verse 2

[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.

With whom the kings of the earth — Both ancient and modern, for many ages.

Have committed fornication — By partaking of her idolatry and various wickedness.

And the inhabitants of the earth — The common people.

Have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication — No wine can more thoroughly intoxicate those who drink it, than false zeal does the followers of the great whore.

Verse 3

[3] So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

And he carried me away — In the vision.

Into a wilderness — The campagna di Roma, the country round about Rome, is now a wilderness, compared to what it was once.

And I saw a woman — Both the scripture and other writers frequently represent a city under this emblem.

Sitting upon a scarlet wild beast — The same which is described in the thirteenth chapter. Revelation 13:1: now he has many. From the time of Hildebrand, the blasphemous titles of the Pope have been abundantly multiplied.

Having seven heads — Which reach in a succession from his ascent out of the sea to his being cast into the lake of fire.

And ten horns — Which are contemporary with each other, and belong to his last period.

Verse 4

[4] And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

And the woman was arrayed — With the utmost pomp and magnificence.

In purple and scarlet — These were the colours of the imperial habit: the purple, in times of peace; and the scarlet, in times of war.

Having in her hand a golden cup — Like the ancient Babylon, Jeremiah 51:7.

Full of abominations — The most abominable doctrines as well as practices.

Verse 5


And on her forehead a name written — Whereas the saints have the name of God and the Lamb on their foreheads.

Mystery — This very word was inscribed on the front of the Pope's mitre, till some of the Reformers took public notice of it.

Babylon the great — Benedict XIII., in his proclamation of the jubilee, A.D. 1725, explains this sufficiently. His words are, "To this holy city, famous for the memory of so many holy martyrs, run with religious alacrity. Hasten to the place which the Lord hath chose. Ascend to this new Jerusalem, whence the law of the Lord and the light of evangelical truth hath flowed forth into all nations, from the very first beginning of the church: the city most rightfully called 'The Palace,' placed for the pride of all ages, the city of the Lord, the Sion of the Holy One of Israel. This catholic and apostolical Roman church is the head of the world, the mother of all believers, the faithful interpreter of God and mistress of all churches." But God somewhat varies the style.

The mother of harlots — The parent, ringleader, patroness, and nourisher of many daughters, that losely copy after her.

And abominations — Of every kind, spiritual and fleshly.

Of the earth — In all lands. In this respect she is indeed catholic or universal.

Verse 6

[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.

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints — So that Rome may well be called, "The slaughter-house of the martyrs." She hath shed much Christian blood in every age; but at length she is even drunk with it, at the time to which this vision refers.

The witnesses of Jesus — The preachers of his word.

And I wondered exceedingly — At her cruelty and the patience of God.

Verse 7

[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.

I will tell thee the mystery — The hidden meaning of this.

Verse 8

[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.

The beast which thou sawest (namely, verse 3) Revelation 13:1-18 This was past when the angel spoke to St. John. The second was then in its course; the third woe to come.

And is not — The fifth phial brought darkness upon his kingdom: the woman took this advantage to seat herself upon him. Then it might be said, He is not. Yet shall he afterwards ascend out of the bottomless pit - Arise again with diabolical strength and fury. But he will not reign long: soon after his ascent he goeth into perdition for ever.

Verse 9

[9] And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

Here is the mind that hath wisdom — Only those who are wise will understand this. The seven heads are seven hills.

Verse 10

[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.

And they are seven kings — Anciently there were royal palaces on all the seven Roman bills. These were the Palatine, Capitoline, Coelian, Exquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, Aventine hills. But the prophecy respects the seven hills at the time of the beast, when the Palatine was deserted and the Vatican in use. Not that the seven heads mean hills distinct from kings; but they have a compound meaning, implying both together. Perhaps the first head of the beast is the Coelian hill, and on it the Lateran, with Gregory VII. and his successors; the second, the Vatican with the church of St. Peter, chosen by Boniface VIII. the third, the Quirinal, with the church of St. Mark, and the Quirinal palace built by Paul II. and the fourth, the Exquiline hill, with the temple of St. Maria Maggiore, where Paul V. reigned. The fifth will be added hereafter. Accordingly, in the papal register, four periods are observable since Gregory VII. In the first almost all the bulls made in the city are dated in the Lateran; in the second, at St. Peter's; in the third, at St. Mark's, or in the Quirinal; in the fourth, at St. Maria Maggiore. But no fifth, sixth, or seventh hill has yet been the residence of any Pope. Not that the hill was deserted, when another was made the papal residence; but a new one was added to the other sacred palaces. Perhaps the times hitherto mentioned might be fixed thus: - 1058. Wings are given to the woman. 1077. The beast ascends out of the sea. 1143. The forty-two months begin. 1810. The forty-two months end. 1832. The beast ascends out of the bottomless pit. 1836. The beast finally overthrown. The fall of those five kings seems to imply, not only the death of the Popes who reigned on those hills, but also such a disannulling of all they had done there, that it will be said, The beast is not; the royal power, which had so long been lodged in the Pope, being then transferred to the city.

One is, the other is not yet come — These two are remarkably distinguished from the five preceding, whom they succeed in their turns. The former of them will continue not a short space, as may be gathered from what is said of the latter: the former is under the government of Babylon; the latter is with the beast. In this second period, one is, at the same time that the beast is not. Even then there will be a Pope, though not with the power which his predecessors had. And he will reside on one of the remaining hills, leaving the seventh for his successor.

Verse 11

[11] And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

And the wild beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth — When the time of his not being is over. The beast consists, as it were, of eight parts. The seven heads are seven of them; and the eighth is his whole body, or the beast himself. Yet the beast himself, though he is in a sense termed the eighth, is of the seven, yea, contains them all. The whole succession of Popes from Gregory VII. are undoubtedly antichrist. Yet this hinders not, but that the last Pope in this succession will be more eminently the antichrist, the man of sin, adding to that of his predecessors a peculiar degree of wickedness from the bottomless pit. This individual person, as Pope, is the seventh head of the beast; as the man of sin, he is the eighth, or the beast himself.

Verse 12

[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.

The ten horns are ten kings — It is nowhere said that these horns are on the beast, or on his heads. And he is said to have them, not as he is one of the seven, but as he is the eighth. They are ten secular potentates, contemporary with, not succeeding, each other, who receive authority as kings with the beast, probably in some convention, which, after a very short space, they will deliver up to the beast. Because of their short continuance, only authority as kings, not a kingdom, is ascribed to them. While they retain this authority together with the beast, he will be stronger than ever before; but far stronger still, when their power is also transferred to him.

Verse 13

[13] These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth verses Revelation 17:13,14 is summed up what is afterwards mentioned, concerning the horns and the beast, in this and the two following chapters.

These have one mind, and give — They all, with one consent, give their warlike power and royal authority to the wild beast.

Verse 14

[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.

These — Kings with the beast.

He is Lord of lords — Rightful sovereign of all, and ruling all things well.

And King of kings — As a king he fights with and conquers all his enemies.

And they that are with him — Beholding his victory, are such as were, while in the body, called, by his word and Spirit.

And chosen — Taken out of the world, when they were enabled to believe in him.

And faithful — Unto death.

Verse 15

[15] And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

People, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues — It is not said tribes: for Israel hath nothing to do with Rome in particular.

Verse 16

[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.

And shall eat her flesh — Devour her immense riches.

Verse 17

[17] For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

For God hath put it into their heart — Which indeed no less than almighty power could have effected.

To execute his sentence — till the words of God - Touching the overthrow of all his enemies, should be fulfilled.

Verse 18

[18] And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

The woman is the great city, which reigneth — Namely, while the beast "is not," and the woman "sitteth upon him."