on Revelation 17 :3
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness - This wilderness into which the apostle was carried is the desolate state of the true Church of Christ, in one of the wings of the once mighty Roman empire. It was a truly awful sight, a terrible desert, a waste howling wilderness; for when he came hither he: -
Saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns - No doubt can now be entertained that this woman is the Latin Church, for she sits upon the beast with seven heads and ten horns, which has been already proved to be the Latin empire, because this empire alone contains the number 666. See on Revelation 13:18 (note). This is a representation of the Latin Church in her highest state of antichristian prosperity, for she Sits Upon the scarlet coloured beast, a striking emblem of her complete domination over the secular Latin empire. The state of the Latin Church from the commencement of the fourteenth century to the time of the Reformation may be considered that which corresponds to this prophetic description in the most literal and extensive sense of the words; for during this period she was at her highest pitch of worldly grandeur and temporal authority. The beast is full of names of blasphemy; and it is well known that the nations, in support of the Latin or Romish Church, have abounded in blasphemous appellations, and have not blushed to attribute to themselves and to their Church the most sacred titles, not only blaspheming by the improper use of sacred names, but even by applying to its bishop those names which alone belong to God; for God hath expressly declared that he will not give his glory to another, neither his praise to graven images.
on Revelation 17 :3
So he carried me away in the spirit - In vision. He seemed to himself to be thus carried away; or the scene which he is about to describe was made to pass before him as if he were present.
Into the wilderness - Into a desert. Compare the notes on Revelation 12:6. Why this scene is laid in a wilderness or desert is not mentioned. Prof. Stuart supposes that it is because it is "appropriate to symbolize the future condition of the beast." So DeWette and Rosenmuller. The imagery is changed somewhat from the first appearance of the harlot in Revelation 17:1. There she is represented as "sitting upon many waters." Now she is represented as "riding on a beast," and of course the imagery is adapted to that. Possibly there may have been no intentional significancy in this; but on the supposition, as the interpretation has led us to believe all along, that this refers to papal Rome, may not the propriety of this be seen in the condition of Rome and the adjacent country, at the rise of the papal power? That had its rise (see the notes on Daniel 7:25 ff) after the decline of the Roman civil power, and properly in the time of Clovis, Pepin, or Charlemagne. Perhaps its first visible appearance, as a power that was to influence the destiny of the world, was in the time of Gregory the Great, 590-605 a.d. On the supposition that the passage before us refers to the period when the papal power became thus marked and defined, the state of Rome at this time, as described by Mr. Gibbon, would show with what propriety the term "wilderness" or "desert" might be then applied to it.
The following extract from this author, in describing the state of Rome at the accession of Gregory the Great, has almost the appearance of being a designed commentary on this passage, or is, at anyrate, such as a partial interpreter of this book would desire and expect to find. Speaking of that period, he says (Decline and Fall, 3:207-211): "Rome had reached, about the close of the sixth century, the lowest period of her depression. By the removal of the seat of empire, and the successive loss of the provinces, the sources of public and private opulence were exhausted; the lofty tree under whose shade the nations of the earth had reposed was deprived of its leaves and branches, and the sapless trunk was left to wither on the ground. The ministers of command and the messengers of victory no longer met on the Appian or Flaminian Way; and the hostile approach of the Lombards was often felt and continually feared. The inhabitants of a potent and peaceful capital, who visit without an anxious thought the garden of the adjacent country, will faintly picture in their fancy the distress of the Romans; they shut or opened their gates with a trembling hand, beheld from the walls the flames of their houses, and heard the lamentations of their brethren who were coupled together like dogs, and dragged away into distant slavery beyond the sea and the mountains.
Such incessant alarms must annihilate the pleasures, and interrupt the labors of a rural life; and the Campagna of Rome was speedily reduced to the stale of a dreary wilderness, in which the land is barren, the waters are impure, and the air is infectious. Curiosity and ambition no longer attracted the nations to the capital of the world; but if chance or necessity directed the steps of a wandering stranger, he contemplated with horror the vacancy and solitude of the city; and might be tempted to ask, Where is the Senate, and where are the people? In a season of excessive rains, the Tiber swelled above its banks, and rushed with irresistible violence into the valleys of the seven hills. A pestilential disease arose from the stagnation of the deluge, and so rapid was the contagion that fourscore persons expired in an hour in the midst of a solemn procession which implored the mercy of Heaven. A society in which marriage is encouraged, and industry prevails, soon repairs the accidental losses of pestilence and war; but as the far greater part of the Romans was condemned to hopeless indigence and celibacy, the depopulation was constant and visible, and the gloomy enthusiasts might expect the approaching failure of the human race. Yet the number of citizens still exceeded the measure of subsistence; their precarious food was supplied from the harvests of Sicily or Egypt; and the frequent repetition of famine betrays the inattention of the emperor to a distant province. The edifices of Rome were exposed to the same ruin and decay; the mouldering fabrics were easily overthrown by inundations, tempests, and earthquakes; and the monks who had occupied the most advantageous stations exulted in their base triumph over the ruins of antiquity.
"Like Thebes, or Babylon, or Carthage, the name of Rome might have been erased from the earth, if the city had not been animated by a vital principle which again restored her to honor and dominion. The power as well as the virtue of the apostles resided with living energy in the breast of their successors; and the chair of Peter, under the reign of Maurice, was occupied by the first and greatest of the name of Gregory. The sword of the enemy was suspended over Rome; it was averted by the mild eloquence and seasonable gifts of the pontiff, who commanded the respect of heretics and barbarians." Compare Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12-15. On the supposition, now, that the inspired author of the Apocalypse had Rome, in that state when the civil power declined and the papacy arose, in his eye, what more expressive imagery could he have used to denote it than he has employed? On the supposition - if such a supposition could be made - that Mr. Gibbon meant to furnish a commentary on this passage, what more appropriate language could he have used? Does not this language look as if the author of the Apocalypse and the author of the Decline and Fall meant to play into each other's hands?
And, in further confirmation of this, I may refer to the testimony of two Roman Catholic writers, giving the same view of Rome and showing that, in their apprehension also, it was only by the reviving influence of the papacy that Rome was saved from becoming a total waste. They are both of the middle ages. The first is Augustine Steuchus, who thus writes: "The empire having been overthrown, unless God had raised up the "pontificate," Rome, resuscitated and restored by none, would have become uninhabitable, and been a most foul habitation thenceforward of cattle. But in the pontificate it revived as with a second birth; its empire in magnitude not indeed equal to the old empire, but its form not very dissimilar: because all nations, from East and from West, venerate the pope, not otherwise than they before obeyed the emperor." The other is Flavio Blondas: "The princes of the world now adore and worship as perpetual dictator the successor not of Caesar but of the fisherman Peter; that is, the supreme pontiff, the substitute of the aforesaid emperor." See the original in Elliott, 3:113.
And I saw a woman - Evidently the same which is referred to in Revelation 17:1.
Sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast - That is, either the beast was itself naturally of this color, or it was covered with trappings of this color. The word "scarlet" properly denotes a bright red color - brighter than crimson, which is a red color tinged with blue. See the notes on Isaiah 1:18. The word used here - κόκκινον kokkinon - occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Matthew 27:28; Hebrews 9:19; Revelation 17:3-4; Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16 - in all which places it is rendered "scarlet." See the Matthew 27:28 note and Hebrews 9:19 note. The color was obtained from a small insect which was found adhering to the shoots of a species of oak in Spain and Western Asia. This was the usual color in the robes of princes, military cloaks, etc. It is applicable in the description of papal Rome, because this is a favorite color there. Thus it is used in Revelation 12:3, where the same power is represented under the image of a "red dragon."
See the notes on that passage. It is remarkable that nothing would better represent the favorite color at Rome than this, or the actual appearance of the pope, the cardinals, and the priests in their robes, on some great festival occasion. Those who are familiar with the descriptions given of papal Rome by travelers, and those who have passed much time in Rome, will see at once the propriety of this description, on the supposition that it was intended to refer to the papacy. I caused this inquiry to be made of an intelligent gentleman who had passed much time in Rome - without his knowing my design what would strike a stranger on visiting Rome, or what would be likely particularly to arrest his attention as remarkable there; and he unhesitatingly replied, "The scarlet color." This is the color of the dress of the cardinals - their hats, and cloaks, and stockings being always of this color.
It is the color of the carriages of the cardinals, the entire body of the carriage being scarlet, and the trappings of the horses the same. On occasion of public festivals and processions, scarlet is suspended from the windows of the houses along which processions pass. The inner color of the cloak of the pope is scarlet; his carriage is scarlet; the carpet on which he treads is scarlet. A large part of the dress of the body-guard of the pope is scarlet; and no one can take up a picture of Rome without seeing that this color is predominant. I looked through a volume of engravings representing the principal officers and public persons of Rome. There were few in which the scarlet color was not found as constituting some part of their apparel; in not a few the scarlet color prevailed almost entirely. And in illustration of the same thought, I introduce here an extract from a foreign newspaper, copied into an American newspaper of Feb. 22, 1851, as an illustration of the fact that the scarlet color is characteristic of Rome, and of the readiness with which it is referred to in that respect: "Curious Costumes - The three new cardinals, the archbishops of Thoulouse, Rheims, and Besancon, were presented to the president of the French Republic by the Pope's nuncio. They wore red caps, red stockings, black Roman coats lined and bound with red, and small cloaks." I conclude, therefore, that if it be admitted that it was intended to represent papal Rome in the vision, the precise description would have been adopted which is found here.
Full of names of blasphemy - All covered over with blasphemous titles and names. What could more accurately describe papal Rome than this? Compare for some of these names and titles the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; and notes on Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:5.
Having seven heads and ten horns - See the notes on Revelation 13:1.
on Revelation 17 :3