Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Revelation 17:18

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth - It has already been shown that the woman sitting upon the seven-headed beast is a representation of the Latin Church; here we have the greatest assurance that it is so, because the woman is called a city, which is a much plainer emblem of a Church, as the word is used unequivocally in this sense in so many parts of Scripture that we cannot well mistake its meaning. See Revelation 3:12; Revelation 11:2; Revelation 21:10; Revelation 22:19; and also Psalm 46:4; Psalm 87:3; Hebrews 12:22, etc. The woman therefore must be the Latin Church; and as the apostle saw her sitting upon the beast, this must signify that ἡ εχουσα βασιλειαν, she hath A Kingdom over the kings of the earth, i.e., over the kings of the Latin world, for that this is the meaning of earth has been shown before in numerous instances. That Kingdom which the woman has over the kings of the Latin world, or secular Latin empire, or in other words The Kingdom of the Latin Church, is the numbered Latin kingdom or Romish hierarchy. See on Revelation 13:18; (note). The woman is also called a Great city, to denote the very great extent of her jurisdiction; for she has comprehended within her walls the subjects of the mighty dominations of France, Spain, England, Scotland, The Empire, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, and Portugal. What an extensive city was this! Surely such as to justify the prophetic denomination, that Great city.

Having now gone through the whole of the angel's interpretation of St. John's vision of a whore sitting upon the seven-headed and ten-horned beast, it will be essentially necessary to examine a little more attentively the eighth verse of this chapter. It has already been shown that the phrases, was, is not, shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and yet is, refer to the Latin kingdom which existed before the building of Rome, to the Roman empire in the time of St. John, and to the Latin empire which was in futurity in the apostolic age. But as the words was, is not, etc., are spoken of the beast upon which the apostle saw the woman, or Latin Church, sit; how can it be said of this beast that it had an existence before the date of the Apocalypse, when the woman whom it carried was not in being till long after this period? And what connection has the Latin empire of the middle ages with that which derived its name from Latinus, king of the Aborigines, and was subjugated by the ancient Romans; or even with that which existed in the time of the apostle? The answer is as follows: St. John saw the beast upon which the woman sat with all his seven heads and ten horns. Consequently, as the angel expressly says that five of these seven heads had already fallen in the time of the vision, it therefore necessarily follows that the apostle must have seen that part of the Latin empire represented by the seven-headed beast which had already been under the emblem of five heads. Therefore the woman sat upon the beast that Was. But it is plain from the angel's interpretation that the whole of the seven heads fell, before the beast upon which the woman sat arose; and yet the woman is represented as sitting upon the seven-headed beast to denote, as we have before observed, that it is the Latin kingdom in its last estate, or under one of its heads restored, which is the secular kingdom of antichrist. The beast is also said not to have any existence in the time of the vision; from which it is evident that the monarchy of the Latins, and not that of the Romans, is here intended; because the latter was in the time of the vision. Again, the beast which St. John saw had not ascended out of the bottomless pit in his time; consequently the whole seven heads and ten horns were in futurity, for all these heads and horns rose up out of the abyss at the same time with the beast. How is this apparent contradiction reconciled? In the most plain and satisfactory manner, by means of the angel's double interpretation of the heads; for if the seven heads be taken in the sense of seven mountains, (head in the Scripture style being a symbol of precedency as well as supremacy), then the beast with all its heads and horns was altogether in futurity in the apostle's time, for the seven heads are the seven electorates of the German empire, and the ten horns the ten monarchies in the interest of the Latin Church. Finally, the beast is said to exist in the time of the vision; therefore the Roman empire, which governed the world, must be here alluded to; and consequently the phrase and yet is is a proof that, as the beast is the Latin kingdom, and this beast is said to have an existence in the time of the apostle, the empire of the Caesars, though generally known by the name of the Roman, is in a very proper sense the Latin kingdom, as the Latin was the language which prevailed in it. Hence the seven-headed and ten-horned beast is at once the representation of the ancient Latin power, of the Roman empire which succeeded it, and of the Latin empire which supports the Latin Church. Here is then the connection of the ancient Latin and Roman powers with that upon which the woman sits. She sits upon the beast that was and is not, because three of his heads represent the three forms of government which the ancient Latins had before they were subjugated by the Romans, viz., the regal power, the dictatorship, and the power of the praetors. She sits upon the beast which Shall Ascend out of the bottomless pit, because all his seven heads, taken in the sense of mountains were in futurity in the apostolic age. She sits upon the beast that yet is, because four of his heads represent four forms of government of the Roman or Latin empire now in existence, viz., the consulate, the triumvirate, the imperial power, and the patriciate. It is hence evident that the beast, in the largest acceptation of this term, is a symbol of the Latin power in general, from its commencement in Latinus to the end of time; his seven heads denoting seven kings or supreme forms of Latin government, during this period, king or kingdom, as we have already observed, being a general term in the prophetical writings for any kind of supreme governor or government, no matter by what particular name such may have been designated among men. Thus the Latin power from the time of Latinus to the death of Numitor was the beast under the dominion of his first head; from the death of Numitor to the destruction of Alba it was the beast under the dominion of his second head; from the destruction of Alba to the final subjugation of the Latins by the Romans the beast under the dominion of his third head. And as the four Roman forms of government which were subsequent to the final conquest of the Latins, were also Latin dominations, the Latin power under these forms of government was the beast under the dominion of his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh heads. The beast of the bottomless pit, which followed the fall of all the heads of the sea beast or general Latin empire, is, according to the angel's interpretation, ογδοος, (βασιλευς ), an Eighth king, i.e., an eighth species of Latin power, or, in other words, a supreme form of Latin government essentially differing from all the foregoing; yet, as it is nominally the same with one of the preceding seven, it is not accounted an eighth head of the beast. The first beast of Revelation 13:1; is a description of the eighth or last condition of the General Latin empire, and is said to arise εκ της θαλασσης, out of the sea, because the heads are there taken in a double sense, sea being a general term to express the origin of every great empire which is raised up by the sword; but when (as in Revelation 17:11;) one of the heads of the sea beast (viz., that secular power which is still in being, and has supported the Latin Church for more than a thousand years) is peculiarly styled The Beast, the Holy Ghost, speaking of this secular Latin empire exclusively, declares it to be εκ της αβυσσου, From the bottomless pit.

John Edward Clarke.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And the woman which thou sawest - Revelation 17:3.

Is that great city - Represents that great city.

Which reigneth over the kings of the earth - Rome would of course be understood by this language in the time of John, and all the circumstances, as we have seen, combined to show that Rome, in some form of its dominion, is intended. Even the name could hardly have designated it more clearly, and all expositors agree in supposing that Rome, either as pagan or as Christian, is referred to. The chapter shows that its power is limited; and that, although for purposes which he saw to be wise, God allows it to have a wide influence over the nations of the earth, yet, in his own appointed time, the very powers that have sustained it will become its foes, and combine for its overthrow. Europe needs but little further provocation, and the fires of liberty, which have been so long pent up, will break forth, and that storm of indignation which has expelled the Jesuits from all the courts of Europe; which has abolished the Inquisition; which has more than once led hostile armies to the very gates of papal Rome, will again be aroused in a manner which cannot be allayed, and that mighty power, which has controlled so large a part of the nations of Europe for more than a thousand years of the world‘s history, will come to an end.

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, 382-3

In the New Testament, language very similar is addressed to professed Christians who seek the friendship of the world above the favor of God. Says the apostle James: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” GC 382.1

The woman (Babylon) of Revelation 17 is described as “arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness:...and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots.” Says the prophet: “I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” Babylon is further declared to be “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:4-6, 18. The power that for so many centuries maintained despotic sway over the monarchs of Christendom is Rome. The purple and scarlet color, the gold and precious stones and pearls, vividly picture the magnificence and more than kingly pomp affected by the haughty see of Rome. And no other power could be so truly declared “drunken with the blood of the saints” as that church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ. Babylon is also charged with the sin of unlawful connection with “the kings of the earth.” It was by departure from the Lord, and alliance with the heathen, that the Jewish church became a harlot; and Rome, corrupting herself in like manner by seeking the support of worldly powers, receives a like condemnation. GC 382.2

Babylon is said to be “the mother of harlots.” By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world. The message of Revelation 14, announcing the fall of Babylon must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. Since this message follows the warning of the judgment, it must be given in the last days; therefore it cannot refer to the Roman Church alone, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries. Furthermore, in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon. According to this scripture, many of God's people must still be in Babylon. And in what religious bodies are the greater part of the followers of Christ now to be found? Without doubt, in the various churches professing the Protestant faith. At the time of their rise these churches took a noble stand for God and the truth, and His blessing was with them. Even the unbelieving world was constrained to acknowledge the beneficent results that followed an acceptance of the principles of the gospel. In the words of the prophet to Israel: “Thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.” But they fell by the same desire which was the curse and ruin of Israel—the desire of imitating the practices and courting the friendship of the ungodly. “Thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown.” Ezekiel 16:14, 15. GC 382.3

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 167

The state of corruption and apostasy that in the last days would exist in the religious world, was presented to the prophet John in the vision of Babylon, “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:18. Before its destruction the call is to be given from heaven, “Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4. As in the days of Noah and Lot, there must be a marked separation from sin and sinners. There can be no compromise between God and the world, no turning back to secure earthly treasures. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24. PP 167.1

Like the dwellers in the vale of Siddim, the people are dreaming of prosperity and peace. “Escape for thy life,” is the warning from the angels of God; but other voices are heard saying, “Be not excited; there is no cause for alarm.” The multitudes cry, “Peace and safety,” while Heaven declares that swift destruction is about to come upon the transgressor. On the night prior to their destruction, the cities of the plain rioted in pleasure and derided the fears and warnings of the messenger of God; but those scoffers perished in the flames; that very night the door of mercy was forever closed to the wicked, careless inhabitants of Sodom. God will not always be mocked; He will not long be trifled with. “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.” Isaiah 13:9. The great mass of the world will reject God's mercy, and will be overwhelmed in swift and irretrievable ruin. But those who heed the warning shall dwell “in the secret place of the Most High,” and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” His truth shall be their shield and buckler. For them is the promise, “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” Psalm 91:1, 4, 16. PP 167.2

Lot dwelt but a short time in Zoar. Iniquity prevailed there as in Sodom, and he feared to remain, lest the city should be destroyed. Not long after, Zoar was consumed, as God had purposed. Lot made his way to the mountains, and abode in a cave, stripped of all for which he had dared to subject his family to the influences of a wicked city. But the curse of Sodom followed him even here. The sinful conduct of his daughters was the result of the evil associations of that vile place. Its moral corruption had become so interwoven with their character that they could not distinguish between good and evil. Lot's only posterity, the Moabites and Ammonites, were vile, idolatrous tribes, rebels against God and bitter enemies of His people. PP 167.3

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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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