And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall come. Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth; and they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition. And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour. These have one mind, and they give their power and authority unto the beast. These shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they also shall overcome that are with him, called, and chosen and faithful. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire. For God did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished. And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Revelation 17:7–18
Read More Than Conquerors, pp. 203–207
HER MYSTERY INTERPRETED
A. THE ANGEL PROMISES TO EXPLAIN THE MYSTERY, verse 7
When John in his vision saw this huge, horrible, abominable flirt of a woman, he did not know what to make of her. Yet, he wanted to know. The angel (one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls) promised to do even better than he could have expected. He told the apostle that not only would he clear up the mystery of the woman herself but also that of the beast on which she was riding.
B. HE CLEARS UP THE MYSTERY OF THE BEAST UPON WHICH THE WOMAN RIDES, verses 8–14
Bear in mind that it was a beast upon which the woman was riding. Hence, it would be wrong, with some, to say, “Inasmuch as this woman was riding upon an object having seven heads and ten horns (see verses 3,9, and 12) and both the dragon (see Rev. 12:3) and the beast out of the sea (see Rev. 13:1) are thus equipped, the woman may have been riding on the dragon.” No, she is not riding on the dragon but definitely on the beast.
Another matter to be borne in mind is this: it is sometimes argued that there must have been closer co-operation between the woman and the first beast (the one that had rome out of the sea) than between either of these and the second beast (the one out of the earth), since the woman is seen riding upon the first beast, not on the second. But those who thus argue forget that the very close co-operation between first and second beast has already been stressed (Rev. 13:12,14). Clearly implied, therefore, is the thought that all three are constantly co-operating unto the destruction of the Church. Constantly? Well, until Revelation 17:16 is fulfilled!
Now the angel explains to John that this beast on which the woman rides (the beast being the world as center of persecuting power) “was and is not and (yet) shall be present.” Under every form and in every embodiment that beast goes into perdition. But under every embodiment (except the very last, of course) it rises again. Hardly has one head been crushed when another rises. And this happens seven—yes, even eight—times in succession.
There is truth, therefore, in the remark, heard so often, “History repeats itself.” There is a kind of cyclical movement of history. Oswald Spengler (1880–1936), a German school-teacher and subsequently philosopher, in his major work The Decline of the West maintains that every culture passes through a life cycle from youth through maturity and old age to death. Then another similar cycle rises again. He believed, for example, that the West was about to die, and that Chinese culture would replace it. Now though it is true that such a philosophical theory may be somewhat artificial, marshaling an array of facts that would seem to prove the theory but omitting others that would seem to disprove it, it must be admitted, nevertheless, that, according to our passage here in the book of Revelation, it is not altogether void of truth. And it must needs be, though, to be sure, not exactly in the sense meant by Spengler. Let it be borne in mind that apart from regenerating grace man’s heart–and this would apply, too, of course to the heart of nations—remains the same or grows even worse. As long as men continue to live apart from God they will wish to dethrone God and his Christ and to enthrone themselves. Result: dismal defeat for themselves. But the next generation has not learned the lesson and tries the same thing all over again. And it, too, goes down into defeat. And so “the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come,” etc. Ancient Babylonia, Assyria, New Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greco-Macedonia—all had tried to defy the Almighty. All had fallen and “gone into perdition.” Yet, even now there was the sixth, Rome, with its proud capital, the city on the seven hills, reigning over the kings of the earth. It, too, would fail. And so would the seventh: the sum-total of earthly powers that followed Rome (think of God-defying Hitler as one of its manifestations); and so, at last, will the eighth, the kingdom of the personal Antichrist. This is true, in spite of all the help they receive from the “ten” horn-kings: the mighty ones in every realm—art, education, commerce, industry, etc. Each of these “kings” reigns for only one hour. Their stars quickly wane. What a comfort to know that though all these forces in every age “war against the Lamb,” yet “the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they also shall overcome that are with him, called and chosen and faithful” (verse 14)
C. HE EXPLAINS THE MYSTERY OF THE HARLOT HERSELF, verses 15–18
It is not hard to understand that if the beast on which the woman rides arises from the sea, then it can be said that, symbolically speaking, the beast-riding harlot “sits on the waters.” By means of her wiles she rules over and seduces the “turbulent sea of the nations.” However, this harmonious relationship between beast and harlot does not last (verse 16). Everything, moreover, was included in God’s eternal plan (see verse 17), which by no means cancels the responsibility of the agents. It is, nevertheless, a great comfort to know that no enemy of the Church can go any further than God’s plan and providence permit. With special reference to the Rome of his own day, the very center of seduction, but with secondary reference to the ever-recurring rise of anti-christian wiles directed against the Church, wiles concentrated in the great world-empires and their capitals, this section concludes with the words, “And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
1. Verse 6, “I wondered with great wonder.” Cf. verse 8, “And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder.” Is this the same activity in both cases?
2. Is inquisitiveness or, if you prefer, intellectual curiosity, a virtue to be encouraged or a vice to be eradicated?
3. Explain verse 16. See More Than Conquerors, pp. 206,207.
4. Can a person who has not been included in “the book of life from the foundation of the world” still get his name into that book? If so, then is not God’s eternal decree of election ineffective? If not, then is not the well-meant offer of salvation an untruth?
5. In connection with verse 11 (“and is of the seven”) there are especially two prominent interpretations. Which, if either, of the following two do you prefer?
a. This indicates the resurrection to world-prominence of a former world-empire—perhaps Rome.
b. This simply means that the final kingdom of the personal Antichrist will embody the spirit and power of the preceding kingdoms.
6. Which verse in the section (verses 7–18) would you regard as being the key-verse of the entire book of Revelation?
7. Is it justifiable to wish to be on the winning side?