I. THE GREAT HARLOT AND THE BEAST SHE RIDES ON
A. Revelation 17:1
"And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, Come here; I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits upon the many waters."
These are the events which come to pass after the pouring out of the seven bowls. It is marvelous that one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls also shows John the wife of the Lamb in 21:9. This fits with 17:1 because not until after the harlot has been judged will God reveal the wife of the Lamb. "The many waters" are "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (17:15). This harlot is sitting upon many peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. This means that the influence of the Roman Church has reached the whole earth. The Roman Church often calls herself the mother and mistress of all the churches.
Why does God say that she is a harlot? It is because she traffics with and mixes with the world. She makes the fellowship among the saints so open that it includes even the worldly people. Thus, she gains the worldly enjoyment and worldly glory. She is as salt that has become tasteless. A harlot is one who commits fornication without marriage. An adulteress is one who commits adultery after having been married. In saying that she is a harlot, it is clear that God has never acknowledged any relationship between the Church of Rome and Christ. As a prostitute commits fornication before getting married and as a harlot commits fornication before her marriage, the Church of Rome has not preserved her virginity for Christ.
She is "the great harlot." She would not be great if she had followed the principles in Matthew —7. She should be only a little flock on the earth (Luke 12:32), bearing the testimony that the world is rebellious and that Christ is coming to judge it. The greatness referred to here is exactly what the Lord prophesied in Matthew 13:32. Genesis 1:12 says, "Herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit...after his kind," but the herb in Matthew 13 became a tree. This is the greatness of "the great harlot." The Pope was even greater than the kings. While the kings could only rule over man’s body, the Pope ruled over both man’s soul and spirit. Furthermore, he ruled over the kings as well. Hence, the Pope is greater than the kings. This is not the proper condition of the church on the earth.
B. Revelation 17:2
"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and those who dwell on the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication."
According to the original Greek, throughout chapter seventeen the word "fornication" is used rather than adultery. A harlot commits fornication, while an adulteress commits adultery. Adultery is a sin committed by someone who is married, while fornication is committed by one who is not. This signifies that from the beginning to the end God never acknowledges having any relationship with the Church of Rome.
"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication."
(1) The Roman Church would baptize anyone who was willing to be baptized in order to please the kings of the earth. Thus, she put the principles of Christ and the holy Word of God up for sale at a cheap price.
(2) The church made her boundaries equal to those of the nation and made Christianity the national religion of Rome. Whoever was a Roman citizen by birth could be a Christian. Originally, the boundary of the church was smaller than that of the nation, but the church dared to make herself as great as the nation.
(3) The church made an alliance with politics by putting emperors and government officials over the church. Above all, the Church of Rome was the first to commit the sin of fornication, that is, to bring religion to the worldly people through the authority of the emperor. This happened not only under the Roman Empire, but in many other nations as well. This has resulted in nothing more than an empty name.
"With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication" indicates that she has had a direct relationship with the kings of the earth. "Those who dwell on the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication" indicates that she has had an indirect relationship with those who dwell on the earth. "The wine of her fornication" refers to her heretical doctrines. She has made those who dwell on the earth lose their direction and become befuddled with her heretical doctrines. On the one hand, the teachings of the Church of Rome encourage people to become Christians, saying that as long as they give an amount of money and confess their sins before a priest, they can be forgiven. On the other hand, the Church of Rome does not teach them to have a sanctified living. Rather, she allows them to continue to enjoy all the worldly blessings, and thereby, the wine of her fornication has intoxicated all the people of the earth. Worldly people cannot live without religion, and the Church of Rome is the most agreeable to their taste. On the one hand, she does not care for spiritual reality, yet on the other hand, by means of various religious ceremonies, she brings people emotional consolation as well as hope for the future.
This has been the condition of the Church of Rome, and in the future, she will be revived in the same way. In China, for instance, while there are no more than three to four hundred thousand Protestants, there are at least two million members of the Church of Rome. Once a person becomes a member of the Church of Rome, he remains a member until death. Over the past year, while certain major denominations in the United States did not gain even one member, the Church of Rome gained millions. Some members of a denomination in England advocate returning to the Church of Rome, while some of the Episcopalian Church want to incorporate various characteristics of the Church of Rome into their official prayers. This was nearly passed by the Parliament.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)