Revelation 17:18
And the woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth."
Sermons
The Great Moral CampaignD. Thomas Revelation 17:14-18


This chapter and the next are mainly occupied with the description of the combatants - the city, the court, and the provinces of Rome - who waged war against the Church of Christ, and therefore are said to "make war with the Lamb;" and with (Revelation 18.) the fall of the city, which was the centre and head of the whole war against Christ. We hold to the belief that St. John was telling, not of something in the far future, which could be but of little avail to the persecuted Church of his day, but of events which were near at hand, imminent, and should "shortly come to pass." Therefore, concerning the interpretation which makes Daniel explain St. John, and understands the seven kings as the seven world empires from Egypt to Rome, and the ten horns as the future dismemberment of the Roman empire - how, we ask, could the knowledge of this then far future event help the suffering saints, to cheer and strengthen whom was the one chief purpose of this book? To say nothing of the incongruity of speaking of Rome in St. John's day as a power that "was, and is not" (ver. 11); or that in his day it had received a "deadly wound" (Revelation 13:3); or that the dismembered Roman empire, of which we and most of modern Europe have for nigh a thousand years formed parts, should continue only "a short space." We should feel pressed with the difficulties of this interpretation were there none other which avoided them. But as there is such other, we feel compelled to adopt it. We do not say that this one has no difficulties, but they are small in comparison with those belonging to the one we have refused. And now let us consider -

I. "THESE" WHO MAKE WAR WITH THE LAMB. Who are they? We believe St. John to refer:

1. To the court of Rome, especially to the monster Nero, the emperor.

(1) He is described:

(a) As "the beast." Sometimes this name stands for the God and Christ opposing world power in general, the secular antichrist of the several ages; and sometimes for the embodiment of that power in one person, as in Nero. How he deserved the name by reason of his ferocity, cruelty, and bestiality, let Tacitus tell, and many others who knew (cf. Renan's 'L'Antichrist').

(b) As soon to be no more. So soon, so certain, was his removal, that he is spoken of in ver. 8 as "the beast that was, and is not, and yet is;" and again (ver. 10, as "was, and is not;" though, from ver. 10 and many other sources, we know that when St. John wrote Nero was yet living, and furiously persecuting the Church of God. This is an inspired prediction of what was soon to come, and is clothed, after the frequent manner of prophecy, in the language of an event already past, though indeed it was future.

(c) As one day to reappear (ver. 8, "He shall ascend out," etc.). The belief that Nero should return was notorious (cf. Stuart and Farrar, in loc.).

(2) He is identified:

(a) By the city over which he rules (ver. 9). Seven-hilled Rome, "the city of the seven hills," was as frequent and well understood a name for Rome as would be "the city on the banks of the Thames" for London.

(b) By his place in the succession of kings. He stands sixth in the list of the Roman emperors. "Five" had passed away of the twelve Caesars. He was the sixth - the "one is" (ver. 10).

(c) His successor's short reign. Galba reigned but three months: "He must continue a short space."

(d) By the universal belief that he would return (cf. supra).

(3) He is doomed to go "into perdition" (ver. 11). Such was the man or monster - beast, rather - who led the war against the Church of Christ in his day.

2. To the city of Rome. She is branded with the name of "Babylon... mother of harlots" (ver. 5), and is described as an utterly abandoned woman, revelling in wealth and splendour, exercising her deadly seductive influences over all the empire, flaunting forth her shame with unblushing effrontery, and cruel with a ferocity that the beast she sat upon, and who sustained her, could hardly rival or satisfy. "Drunk with the blood of the saints." Such was the seven-hilled Rome when St. John knew it. Even a monster like Nero would hardly have dared to rage as he did had he not been encouraged by the brutal populace that swarmed in Rome.

3. To the consuls and proconsuls. The ten provincial governors who aided and abetted "the beast" in his war against Christ. There were ten of these: Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Germany (Farrar). And in all these the will of Nero was law. His persecution was by no means confined to Rome - this entire book shows that, though it began there. It was, as ver. 13 says, they gave "their power... unto the beast."

II. THE METHODS OF THEIR WARFARE.

1. Then, when St. John wrote, it was by cruel, horrible, widespread, and bloody persecution. So that Rome is represented as "drunk with blood," and the description is confirmed by historic fact. But:

2. Now, in our day, the secular, antichristian spirit manifests itself in quite another form. The beast spirit "yet is," though clothed in other garb. The world is the world yet, and still makes "war with the Lamb." It aims now not so much to hurt the body as the soul. The former it may not touch, but the latter it can and does. It kills holy habits, wounds conscience, defiles the thoughts, stuns religious sensibilities, mocks at religious earnestness, exiles her language, her literature, and her laws. All this the world spirit does by its customs, maxims, and its administration of its rewards and punishments. It has corrupted public opinion, poisoned the atmosphere which daily the believer has to breathe; its influence is often, generally, unseen, intangible, indescribable, but nevertheless as real and deadly to the souls of men as were the bloody laws of Rome to the bodies of the believers in the Church of the first century. But consider -

III. THE LAMB AGAINST WHOM "THESE" WAR. A Lamb, and yet "Lord of lords, and King of kings." The ideas seem incongruous. How, then, is "the Lamb" this?

1. By rightful authority. Though Son of man, he is also Son of God (cf. Psalm 2.).

2. By virtue of his sacrifice. It is this great fact that he keeps prominently through his chosen name - "the Lamb." In heaven he is thus seen as "a Lamb who had been slain" (Revelation 4.; cf. Philippians 3., "Therefore hath God also highly exalted him, and," etc.):

3. By the might of meekness. See how at his nativity the shepherds were told they should see the "Saviour, Christ the Lord." And what was it that they did see? A babe, "wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger." But in that utter humiliation and self abnegation of the Son of God lay the might that should make him, as it has made him, "King of kings, and Lord of lords." Meekness is might, sacrifice is sovereignty, losing life is gaining it; the cross creates the crown. It is no arbitrary arrangement; it lies in the constitution of our nature, to which his meekness and love appeal with such resistless force. "O Galilaean, thou has; conquered!" said the Emperor Julian. And Constantine confessed the same, and Rome bowed to Christ.

4. By the consent of conscience. Blessed be God, there is a better self in the worst of men, and the appeal to that better self in men, though drowned by many a vile clamour for a long time, will yet be heard and obeyed. And Christ by his gospel made such appeal.

5. By the grace he imparted to his people. "Their patient continuance in well doing put to silence" all their foes. Rome looked on at these Christians and wondered, and, after a while, gave way and worshipped with them. For not alone in and by himself does the Lamb overcome, but:

6. In his people. "They that are with him." The Revised Version rightly renders St. John's words, "They also shall overcome that are with him, called, chosen, faithful." St. John does not teach that the Lamb was indebted to them for this victory, as a general is indebted to his army. That, though the Authorized Version seems to lend countenance to such idea, is very far from the truth. But what is meant is that, like their Lord, "they that are with him" overcome. "The noble army of martyrs praise thee." In them he repeats and reproduces his victory. It is, therefore, of great interest and importance to know who they are that are "with him." For the conditions of victory are the same today as they were of old. The enemy has not changed in reality, though he has in form. And would we overcome, we must be as they of old who overcame. Well, then, see how they are described. They are:

(1) Called. We answer to that description. So far so good. We, the avowed Christian people of our day, have been called by God's providence, by his Spirit, through his Word, his ministers, and by his manifold means of grace, and we are in his Church because of it.

(2) Chosen. Are we this? It does not at all follow that we are so because we are called. All the chosen are called, but not all the called are chosen. "Many are called, and few," etc. How, then, may we know if we are elect, chosen? Not by frames and feelings, fitful emotions of the mind, which come and go like the clouds. Not by position and efface. We may be recognized communicants and pastors, teachers, or aught else of the kind. God forbid that we should say all this counts for nothing as evidence of our Christian standing! It does count for something, but in itself is by no means sufficient evidence as to whether we be God's chosen or not. And not by Church or creed. We may prefer our own and feel persuaded that we are in the right. But Churches and. creeds other than our own have furnished many of Christ's elect, and not all ours are certainly chosen. But thus we may know if we be chosen:

(3) If we be of those who are faithful. Called we are; chosen we may be. If faithful, then we are of the chosen too; and this, and this only, is the proof. They of old through the Lamb overcame. It is they who today through him alone overcome. May we not, then, hear the apostolic word addressed to us, "My brethren, give all diligence to make your calling and election sure"? - S.C.







The Judgment of the great whore.
The description here given of this harlot suggests and illustrates three great evils ever conspicuous in corrupt Christianity.

I. POLITICAL SUBSERVIENCY. "With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication." Essentially Christianity is the absolute queen of life. Although her kingdom is "not of this world," her demand is that the world should bow to her. In yielding to worldly influence she lost her pristine purity and primitive power, she got corrupted, and became more and more the servant of rulers and the instrument of states.

II. WORLDLY PROCLIVITY. "And the woman was arrayed in purple anal scarlet colour, and decked with gold," etc. Genuine Christianity is essentially unworldly.

III. RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE. "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints," etc.

(David Thomas, D. D.)

I. THE WOMAN.

1. Her position, which was indicative of power. John saw her seated upon a beast, "dreadful, and terrible, and strong exceedingly"; for so, in the book of Daniel, we find him described. Again, it was a position indicative of hostility to God. For the beast on which the woman sat was "full of names of blasphemy." Then it was a position indicative of the unsightliness of vice. What a hideous monster was this beast, "having seven heads and ten horns"; and how strange was the picture presented to the apostle's view of "the great whore," as seated upon him. Here, too, was a position indicative of cruelty towards men, as well as of hostility towards God. The beast on which she sat was scarlet-coloured, betokening war and bloodshed. It was a position, nevertheless, of allurement and seduction. For she was seen as one who had in her hand "a golden cup," too successfully held forth to "the inhabitants of the earth," who are represented as having been "made drunk with the wine of her fornication." Her position once more was that of a deceiver and destroyer. The cup held forth was "golden." But its contents, as seen by the apostle — what were they? It was "full of abominations," etc.

2. Her attire. "The woman was arrayed in purple, and scarlet-coloured," indicative of her real dignity; "and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" — illustrative of her vast wealth. How many, beholding a female thus adorned, would at once wish to occupy her place! Yet such might be arrayed on earth in purple, and fail of being hereafter arrayed in white in heaven. Instead of wishing to be "decked with gold and precious stones," such as John saw glittering on "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth," let the heart go after that "redemption of the soul" which is "precious, and ceaseth for ever."

3. Her names.(1) "Mystery." Such she would have been to John but for the angel's explanation. Such, even with that explanation, she to certain extent remained to him. And such she was destined to remain to the Church of God through a long succession of ages. Let it be observed, however, that inquiry into the import of the vision was, as it were, challenged by the angel who showed this "woman" to John. We do not, therefore, act unbecomingly in endeavouring to ascertain what this "woman" was destined to represent to the apostle.(2) "Babylon the Great." In having this name inscribed upon her "forehead, she was exhibited to the apostle in a vaunting attitude, and as under the influence of a spirit, similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30). Elsewhere, too, in this book we find her displaying a boastful and vainglorious temper of mind (Revelation 18:7). This should be a lesson to us not to be high-minded, as the possessors of either worldly or religious distinctions.(3) "The mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth." This was indeed to have "a whore's forehead," and to be, as the Jewish nation was once charged with being, one that "refused to be ashamed." Behold the woman with unblushing effrontery proclaiming to the world her character and misdoings; and see, m her, the foreshowing of those "latter times," in which "doctrines of devils" shall be promulgated, and "men, giving heed to seducing spirits, shall depart from the faith"; times when there shall be a "forbidding to marry." It would seem that in this way Babylon the Great is destined to become "the mother of harlots" — namely, by an authoritative prohibition of the nuptial tie; a doing away with marriage throughout the wide extent of her dominion, and a consequent abandonment of society to general dissoluteness.

4. Her condition. "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints," etc. What spectacle was this! fitted to awaken in his bosom feelings at once of disgust and horror. How fearful an amount of persecuting rage against the Church of God, as destined to become apparent in the days of the ascendency of "Babylon the Great," was thus prophetically indicated to him! And of what an amount of suffering, on the part of the saints, and of the witnesses for Jesus, was he thus made aware beforehand.

II. THE BEAST.

1. His colour. A scarlet-coloured beast. What did this indicate? Perhaps, his regal character. We are forewarned that he will be a king of widely-extended rule. In another vision John saw "power given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." "And the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority." We conclude, then, that in being foreshown to John as a scarlet-coloured beast, the regal character of the Man of sin may have been prophetically indicated, and in particular his character, as vicegerent on earth, of the "great red dragon" (Revelation 12:3). But it is more probable that, in presenting him thus to the view of the apostle, the Divine purpose may have been to foreshow to the Christian world the character of antichrist, as a warrior and persecutor of the Church of God. Such he most certainly will be. As a scarlet-coloured beast he might be very fitly presented to view — a monster dyed, as it were, in blood — when it is considered that the time of his ascendency will be "a time of trouble such as never was, since there was a nation to that same time" (compare Revelation 12:12; Daniel 12:1), and "except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved." Power was given to him to make war forty-and-two months — no longer. Then he was, as foreshown to John, "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."

2. His names. "He was full of names of blasphemy," which make us, as they made the apostle, aware that antichrist, when he shall come, besides "wearing out the saints," will "speak great words against the Most High" — "marvellous things against the God of gods." In times long gone he was foreshown to the prophet Daniel as one who would act thus. It will be one special end of his mission, as Satan's prime minister in the world, to blaspheme.

3. His figure. He had "seven heads and ten horns," and must, hence, have presented to the apostle an aspect at once singular, hideous, and terrible — indicative, however, of large intelligence and vast power.

4. His manifestation, contemporaneously with that of "Babylon the Great." Together they will flourish — together they will fall. The day of power to both will be one and the same. The day of doom also.

5. His subservience to her exaltation and advancement. She is seated on him. He "carrieth her." Her prosperity, glory, and dominion will be consequent on, and commensurate with, his own.

III. THE APOSTLE'S WONDER AT THE SPECTACLE. "And when I saw her I wondered with great admiration." But John was rebuked on account of the "great admiration" with which he "wondered" at the woman on whom he was looking. He writes, "And the angel said unto me, wherefore didst thou marvel?" What you have now before you is not, in itself, a spectacle that ought to be wondered at, as it now is, by you. And, even if the world will wonder at it, should you do so? "They shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life, from the foundation of the world" (ver. 8). But "wherefore shouldst thou marvel?"

IV. THE ANGEL'S PROMISE TO JOHN. "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman." This vision was granted to the apostle for the purpose of instruction, not of mere entertainment. The angel will unfold the mystery to him. The promised revelation, however, of all to him, a holy man of God and a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, is in accordance with what we read elsewhere (Psalm 25:14).

(H. Edwards.)

The martyrs of Jesus
I. WHAT DO THE "MARTYRS OF JESUS" TEACH US ABOUT THEMSELVES?

1. Their heroic faith. They had unswerving reliance in Christ, and knew they were not following cunningly devised fables. These martyrs had not simply an opinion or impression, but a deep belief; they were resting upon evidence which they felt to be sufficient and immovable. They believed in living, risen, and reigning Lord.

2. Their sublime hope. All they could see seemed to be against them, all their surroundings were calculated to depress them; but they looked not at things seen and temporal, but for aa inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

3. Their ardent love. They loved their country, home, and friends; but they loved their Master more, and they were prepared to relinquish all for the love they bore to Him.

4. Their complete obedience. They had their marching orders, and they marched on under the Great Captain of their salvation, to do and dare and die. They reciprocated His love.

5. Their transparent sincerity.

6. Their restful satisfaction. They felt they had not only sufficient, but satisfactory evidence of the truth as it is in Jesus. They found in Him all they needed to satisfy the wishes and wants of their spirits, so nothing could move them or shake their steadfastness.

II. WHAT DO "THE MARTYRS OF JESUS" TEACH US RESPECTING HIM?

1. He could have been no myth. These martyrs were — as the word literally means — witnesses, not inventors, or historians merely, they had the evidence of their senses as well as the experience of their hearts. From what we know of human nature, we feel it would have been impossible for the early Christians to have died for a myth or phantom: they were in a position to test most fully the historic claims of Christ, and to prove His personality and identity at the various points of His mission and ministry.

2. He could not have been a deceiver. Men may submit to be deluded when they have much to gain and nothing to lose; but when it is the reverse they will exercise the utmost vigilance and practise the strictest caution.

3. How faithful Christ was to His promise never to leave nor forsake them, and they witness to the victorious power of His religion to sustain the soul in the most trying circumstances, in torturing pain, and the dying hour.

4. The impotence of error and the omnipotence of truth. Truth is mighty, and must prevail; more is for it than all that can be against it. Error, in its rage and cowardice, has drawn the sword and gone forth to win its way, and strike terror into the hearts of the true. But the prospect of massacre and martyrdom could not deter the true followers of the Lamb: they have gone forth feeling that the Lord of hosts was with them, and that the mighty God of Jacob was their refuge. The King Immortal, Invisible, steers and guards His own ark, and all shall ultimately and utterly fail and fall who lay their unholy alien hands upon it. The noble army of martyrs praise God, and they preach to us.

(F. W. Brown.)

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