SURVEY OF COMMENTATORS: MORRIS (202-213)
Morris divides Revelation into 9 sections, as follows.
- Prologue: 1:1-20
- The Letters to the Churches: 2:1-3:22
- The Vision of Heaven: 4:1-11
- The Seven Seals: 5:1-8:5
- The Seven Trumpets: 9:6-11:19
- Seven Significant Signs: 12:1-14:20
- The Last Plagues: 15:1-16:21
- The Triumph of Almighty God: 17:1-20:15
- A New Heaven and a New Earth: 21:1-22:5
- Epilogue: 22:6-21
Thus, chapter 17 is the beginning of the section, “The Triumph of Almighty God.” Furthermore, he sets this chapter into a subsection, “The judgment of the great whore.” He divides the chapter into the following parts:
i. The woman seated on the beast, 17:1-6
ii. The significance of the woman and the beast, 17:7-14
iii. The punishment of the whore, 17:15-18
i. The Woman
Morris interprets the woman, or Babylon, as: “civilized man apart from God, man in organized but godless community.” He notes that she is “plainly” contrasted “to the woman of chapter xii and the ‘bride’ of chapters xxi, xxii.” He notes the “connection” between the angel who shows John the woman and the seven bowls of wrath: God, in judgment, destroys the evil and reveals the New Jerusalem of the righteous.
As do other commentators, Morris relates the “sexual looseness” to Old Testament references to the unfaithfulness of Israel and the “insolent and idolatrous world powers.” He believes that John is taken to the wilderness to see the whore because the wilderness affords a “detachment from the great city…[so that] God’s people can see her as she really is.”
The abominations in the woman’s cup “is especially associated with idolatry.” He considers that the word “mystery,” that introduces her name, is a description and not part of the name. He believes that the description of the woman as a harlot is consistent with other ancient descriptions of Rome--so, in this sense, he is equating Babylon with ancient Rome, for he understands that the city has a two-fold meaning--contemporary with John and also applicable to the last days.
He notes that the reference in verse 17:6 to persecution of martyrs is a reference to “witnesses.” So, this woman’s guilt is magnified because: “She was not ignorant of the issues. Witness had been borne.” In other words, the Christians were being killed because of their witness to truth.
ii.The Significance of the Woman and the Beast
For Morris,in the description of the Beast, the main point of the “was, is not…” is that the “evil in mankind may seem to disappear, but... [it] always returns again.” He says the Nero redivivus myth is an illustration of this but “does not exhaust [John’s] meaning.” The beast’s ascension from the Abyss “identifies him with the forces of evil.”
In verse 17:9 is the “clue, the word to the wise.” The seven mountains “identifies her [the woman] with Rome…” But Rome does not exhaust the meaning. Then he repeats his definition: “civilized man, organized apart from God. It has its embodiment in every age.” This Babylon “always opposed the bride, new Jerusalem…”
I have given the information on the seven kings that Morris relays in my commentary in a previous post. He considers trying to identify the seven emperors to be without merit, and he favors Hendriksen’s view of seven empires. This list of empires goes back to the “old Babylonian,” but it omits Egypt. It includes Rome as the sixth, which Morris connects to the seventh. The seventh, he quotes Hendriksen to be, “all antichristian governments between Rome and the final empire of the Antichrist.” The eighth is the Antichrist empire, which “may well arise in one of the ancient seats of the empire.”
Strangely, Morris then reverts to numbering emperors and considers Domitian as the eighth king, who many of John’s day considered to be like Nero. Morris goes on to struggle with the wording “was and is not.” He suggests that “in one sense he [Domitian] was, and in another, he was not Nero.”
As he goes back to generalities, in interpreting the seven heads, he seems to be more confident: “So John is telling us that the beast, the basic source of evil, finds a kind of incarnation in each of the seven. In a way, he is each of them. And he is especially the eighth.” He goes on to say: “John is not concerned with the beast’s career...He does not say enough for us to make a firm identification. His interest is not in what the beast does…[it] is in his destruction: he goeth into perdition. So ultimately perishes all evil.” I do not fully agree with Morris in this conclusion. He recognizes that chapter 17 is really a continuation of chapter 13, and that chapter gives quite a bit of detail about the “career” of the Beast and of his false prophet as well as details about his power.
Morris relays ideas from others about the 10 kings of verse 17:12. First is the idea that the 10 kings are emperors, but this idea ignores the statement that they had not yet received a kingdom. Then, he seems to sink into confusion as he discusses the notion that the 10 kings reflect the Nero myth, which sometimes predicted that Nero would have the support of Parthian leaders. In a strange amalgam, he states that at “the End the beast will give rise not only to the eight [of verse 17:11]...but also to ten others…[who] may be earthly kings…[or] demonic figures.” He concludes that the 10 kings are “antichrist’s helpers, to be raised up in the last days.” He says 10 may be symbolic of completeness. He notes two points that can be concluded about these kings: Their time will be short (“one hour”), and they reign not on their own but in conjunction with the beast.
In verses 17:13-14, Morris sees how the 10 kings are characterized and how the followers of the lamb are also characterized. The kings are not “independent thinkers,” but willing collaborators with the Beast. The followers of the Lamb are His “retinue, not His resources...for He needs none.”
iii.The punishment of the whore, 17:15-18
Verses 17:15-17 show “the disunity of the forces of evil, and the certainty that God’s words will be fulfilled.” The whore sits on waters that represent a “great empire” of a multitude of people. This all comes to an end when the Beast and kings rebel. Morris notes that “there is no cohesion in evil. Wicked men are not just one happy band of brothers. Being wicked, they give way to jealousy and hatred.” The result is the destruction of the whore. “The basic reason for all this” is the will of God, who puts rebellion into the kings’ hearts.
Finally, in verse 17:18, the “woman’s identity is now revealed…” She is the great city that rules. “In John’s own day this stands for Rome. But in the end-time it is man in organized community…”
The woman: Morris interprets the woman as ancient Rome, but also as representing the end-time condition of humanity: “civilized man apart from God, man in organized but godless community.”
The Beast with seven heads: He favors Hendriksen’s interpretation that the seven heads represent ancient anti-God or anti-Christ empires and the eighth to be the final empire of the Antichrist.
The 10 kings: He believes these are “antichrist’s helpers, to be raised up in the last days.”
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.