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Revelation 17:15

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - "So many words," Bishop Newton observes, "in the plural number, fitly denote the great extensiveness of her power and jurisdiction. She herself glories in the title of the Catholic Church, and exults in the number of her votaries as a certain proof of the true religion. Cardinal Bellarmin's first note of the true Church is, the very name of the Catholic Church; and his fourth note is, amplitude, or multitude, and variety of believers; for the truly Catholic Church, says he, ought not only to comprehend all ages, but likewise all places, all nations, all kinds of men."

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And he saith unto me - The angel, Revelation 17:7. This commences the more “literal” statement of what is meant by these symbols. See the Analysis of the chapter.

The waters which thou sawest - See the notes on Revelation 17:1.

Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - For an explanation of these terms, see the notes on Revelation 7:9. The meaning here is:

(a) that these waters represent a multitude of people. This is a common and an obvious symbol - for outspread seas or raging floods would naturally represent such a multitude. See Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Jeremiah 47:2. Compare Iliad, v. 394. The sense here is, that vast numbers of people would be subject to the power here represented by the woman.

(b) They would be composed of different nations, and would be of different languages, It is unnecessary to show that this, in both respects, is applicable to the papacy. Nations have been, and are subject to its control, and nations speaking a large part of the languages of the world. Perhaps under no one government - not even the Babylonian, the Macedonian, or the ancient Roman - was there so great a diversity of people, speaking so many different languages, and having so different an origin.

Uriah Smith
Daniel and the Revelation, 661

Verse 15

An Important Symbol Defined. — In verse 15 we have a plain definition of the Scripture symbol of waters; they denote peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. The angel told John, while calling his attention to this subject, that he would show him the judgment of this great harlot. In verse 16 that judgment is specified. This chapter has, naturally, more especial reference to the old mother, or Catholic Babylon. The next chapter, if we mistake not, deals with the character and destiny of another great branch of Babylon, the harlot daughters.DAR 662.1

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
God so ruled the hearts of these kings, by his power over them, and by his providence, that they did those things, without intending it, which he purposed and foretold. They shall see their folly, and how they have been bewitched and enslaved by the harlot, and be made instruments in her destruction. She was that great city which reigned over the kings of the earth, when John had this vision; and every one knows Rome to be that city. Believers will be received to the glory of the Lord, when wicked men will be destroyed in a most awful manner; their joining together in sin, will be turned to hatred and rage, and they will eagerly assist in tormenting each other. But the Lord's portion is his people; his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, to his glory, and the happiness of all his servants.
Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 440

But the beast with lamblike horns was seen “coming up out of the earth.” Instead of overthrowing other powers to establish itself, the nation thus represented must arise in territory previously unoccupied and grow up gradually and peacefully. It could not, then, arise among the crowded and struggling nationalities of the Old World—that turbulent sea of “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” It must be sought in the Western Continent. GC 440.1

What nation of the New World was in 1798 rising into power, giving promise of strength and greatness, and attracting the attention of the world? The application of the symbol admits of no question. One nation, and only one, meets the specifications of this prophecy; it points unmistakably to the United States of America. Again and again the thought, almost the exact words, of the sacred writer has been unconsciously employed by the orator and the historian in describing the rise and growth of this nation. The beast was seen “coming up out of the earth;” and, according to the translators, the word here rendered “coming up” literally signifies “to grow or spring up as a plant.” And, as we have seen, the nation must arise in territory previously unoccupied. A prominent writer, describing the rise of the United States, speaks of “the mystery of her coming forth from vacancy,“ and says: “Like a silent seed we grew into empire.”—G. A. Townsend, The New World Compared With the Old, page 462. A European journal in 1850 spoke of the United States as a wonderful empire, which was “emerging,” and “amid the silence of the earth daily adding to its power and pride.”—The Dublin Nation. Edward Everett, in an oration on the Pilgrim founders of this nation, said: “Did they look for a retired spot, inoffensive for its obscurity, and safe in its remoteness, where the little church of Leyden might enjoy the freedom of conscience? Behold the mighty regions over which, in peaceful conquest, ... they have borne the banners of the cross!”—Speech delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Dec. 22, 1824, page 11. GC 440.2

“And he had two horns like a lamb.” The lamblike horns indicate youth, innocence, and gentleness, fitly representing the character of the United States when presented to the prophet as “coming up” in 1798. Among the Christian exiles who first fled to America and sought an asylum from royal oppression and priestly intolerance were many who determined to establish a government upon the broad foundation of civil and religious liberty. Their views found place in the Declaration of Independence, which sets forth the great truth that “all men are created equal” and endowed with the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And the Constitution guarantees to the people the right of self-government, providing that representatives elected by the popular vote shall enact and administer the laws. Freedom of religious faith was also granted, every man being permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. Republicanism and Protestantism became the fundamental principles of the nation. These principles are the secret of its power and prosperity. The oppressed and downtrodden throughout Christendom have turned to this land with interest and hope. Millions have sought its shores, and the United States has risen to a place among the most powerful nations of the earth. GC 441.1

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 381-90

In Revelation 14 the first angel is followed by a second proclaiming: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Revelation 14:8. The term “Babylon” is derived from “Babel,” and signifies confusion. It is employed in Scripture to designate the various forms of false or apostate religion. In Revelation 17 Babylon is represented as a woman—a figure which is used in the Bible as the symbol of a church, a virtuous woman representing a pure church, a vile woman an apostate church. GC 381.1

In the Bible the sacred and enduring character of the relation that exists between Christ and His church is represented by the union of marriage. The Lord has joined His people to Himself by a solemn covenant, He promising to be their God, and they pledging themselves to be His and His alone. He declares: “I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies.” Hosea 2:19. And, again: “I am married unto you.” Jeremiah 3:14. And Paul employs the same figure in the New Testament when he says: “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2. GC 381.2

The unfaithfulness of the church to Christ in permitting her confidence and affection to be turned from Him, and allowing the love of worldly things to occupy the soul, is likened to the violation of the marriage vow. The sin of Israel in departing from the Lord is presented under this figure; and the wonderful love of God which they thus despised is touchingly portrayed: “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest Mine.” “And thou wast exceeding beautiful and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee.... But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown.” “As a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord;” “as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!” Ezekiel 16:8, 13-15, 32; Jeremiah 3:20. GC 381.3

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 277.6

All are to hear the last message of warning. The prophecies in the book of Revelation, chapters 12 to 18, are being fulfilled. In the eighteenth chapter is recorded the very last call to the churches. This call is now to be given. In the nineteenth chapter, the time is pictured when the beast and the false prophet are taken, and cast into a lake of fire. The dragon, who was the instigator of the great rebellion against heaven, is bound, and cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. Then follows the resurrection of the wicked and the final destruction of Satan and all the wicked, and the final triumph and reign of Christ in this earth.—Manuscript 75, September 20, 1906, “A Caution Against Heavy Investment in Food Manufacture.” UL 277.6

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