Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
rev 17:1And there came one of the seven angels, saying, Come hither - This relation concerning the great whore, and that concerning the wife of the Lamb, Rev 21:9-10, have the same introduction, in token of the exact opposition between them. I will show thee the judgment of the great whore - Which is now circumstantially described. That sitteth as a queen - In pomp, power, ease, and luxury. Upon many waters - Many people and nations, Rev 17:15.
rev 17:2With whom the kings of the earth - Both ancient and modern, for many ages. Have committed fornication - By partaking of her idolatry and various wickedness. And the inhabitants of the earth - The common people. Have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication - No wine can more thoroughly intoxicate those who drink it, than false zeal does the followers of the great whore.
rev 17:3And he carried me away - In the vision. Into a wilderness - The campagna di Roma, the country round about Rome, is now a wilderness, compared to what it was once. And I saw a woman - Both the scripture and other writers frequently represent a city under this emblem. Sitting upon a scarlet wild beast - The same which is described in Rev. 13:1-18. But he was there described as he carried on his own designs only: here, as he is connected with the whore. There is, indeed, a very close connexion between them; the seven heads of the beast being "seven hills on which the woman sitteth." And yet there is a very remarkable difference between them, - between the papal power and the city of Rome. This woman is the city of Rome, with its buildings and inhabitants; especially the nobles. The beast, which is now scarlet - coloured, (bearing the bloody livery, as well as the person, of the woman,) appears very different from before. Therefore St. John says at first sight, I saw a beast, not the beast, full of names of blasphemy - He had' before "a name of blasphemy upon his head," Rev 13:1; now he has many. From the time of Hildebrand, the blasphemous titles of the Pope have been abundantly multiplied. Having seven heads - Which reach in a succession from his ascent out of the sea to his being cast into the lake of fire. And ten horns - Which are contemporary with each other, and belong to his last period.
rev 17:4And the woman was arrayed - With the utmost pomp and magnificence. In purple and scarlet - These were the colours of the imperial habit: the purple, in times of peace; and the scarlet, in times of war. Having in her hand a golden cup - Like the ancient Babylon, Jer 51:7. Full of abominations - The most abominable doctrines as well as practices.
rev 17:5And on her forehead a name written - Whereas the saints have the name of God and the Lamb on their foreheads. Mystery - This very word was inscribed on the front of the Pope's mitre, till some of the Reformers took public notice of it. Babylon the great - Benedict XIII., in his proclamation of the jubilee, A.D. 1725, explains this sufficiently. His words are, "To this holy city, famous for the memory of so many holy martyrs, run with religious alacrity. Hasten to the place which the Lord hath chose. Ascend to this new Jerusalem, whence the law of the Lord and the light of evangelical truth hath flowed forth into all nations, from the very first beginning of the church: the city most rightfully called 'The Palace,' placed for the pride of all ages, the city of the Lord, the Sion of the Holy One of Israel. This catholic and apostolical Roman church is the head of the world, the mother of all believers, the faithful interpreter of God and mistress of all churches." But God somewhat varies the style. The mother of harlots - The parent, ringleader, patroness, and nourisher of many daughters, that losely copy after her. And abominations - Of every kind, spiritual and fleshly. Of the earth - In all lands. In this respect she is indeed catholic or universal.
rev 17:6And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints - So that Rome may well be called, "The slaughter - house of the martyrs." She hath shed much Christian blood in every age; but at length she is even drunk with it, at the time to which this vision refers. The witnesses of Jesus - The preachers of his word. And I wondered exceedingly - At her cruelty and the patience of God.
rev 17:7I will tell thee the mystery - The hidden meaning of this.
rev 17:8The beast which thou sawest (namely, Rev 17:3) was, &c. - This is a very observable and punctual description of the beast, Rev 17:8, Rev 17:10-11. His whole duration is here divided into three periods, which are expressed in a fourfold manner. He, 1. Was; 2 And is not; 3. And will ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition. He, 1. Was; 2. And is not; 3. And will be again. The seven heads are seven hills and seven kings: 1. Five are fallen; 2. One is; 3. The other is not come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. He, 1. Was; 2. And is not; 3 Even he is the eighth, and is one of the seven, and goeth into perdition. The first of these three is described in Rev. 13:1-18. This was past when the angel spoke to St. John. The second was then in its course; the third woe to come. And is not - The fifth phial brought darkness upon his kingdom: the woman took this advantage to seat herself upon him. Then it might be said, He is not. Yet shall he afterwards ascend out of the bottomless pit - Arise again with diabolical strength and fury. But he will not reign long: soon after his ascent he goeth into perdition for ever.
rev 17:9Here is the mind that hath wisdom - Only those who are wise will understand this. The seven heads are seven hills.
rev 17:10And they are seven kings - Anciently there were royal palaces on all the seven Roman bills. These were the Palatine, Capitoline, Coelian, Exquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, Aventine hills. But the prophecy respects the seven hills at the time of the beast, when the Palatine was deserted and the Vatican in use. Not that the seven heads mean hills distinct from kings; but they have a compound meaning, implying both together. Perhaps the first head of the beast is the Coelian hill, and on it the Lateran, with Gregory VII. and his successors; the second, the Vatican with the church of St. Peter, chosen by Boniface VIII. the third, the Quirinal, with the church of St. Mark, and the Quirinal palace built by Paul II. and the fourth, the Exquiline hill, with the temple of St. Maria Maggiore, where Paul V. reigned. The fifth will be added hereafter. Accordingly, in the papal register, four periods are observable since Gregory VII. In the first almost all the bulls made in the city are dated in the Lateran; in the second, at St. Peter's; in the third, at St. Mark's, or in the Quirinal; in the fourth, at St. Maria Maggiore. But no fifth, sixth, or seventh hill has yet been the residence of any Pope. Not that the hill was deserted, when another was made the papal residence; but a new one was added to the other sacred palaces. Perhaps the times hitherto mentioned might be fixed thus: 1058 Wings are given to the woman. 1077 The beast ascends out of the sea. 1143 The forty - two months begin. 1810 The forty - two months end. 1832 The beast ascends out of the bottomless pit. 1836 The beast finally overthrown.