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Revelation 17

Chapter 17:

v. 1: See also 14:8 and 18:2.  This whore is Rome, or the Roman Empire.  There are two very strong reasons for believing this.  V. 18 says that she is “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”  During John’s time, nobody would have applied this to any city but Rome.  Also, she is seated on seven mountains, symbolized by the seven heads of the beast she is riding (17:9).  This too is an unmistakable allusion to the city of Rome, which is unique in being founded upon seven mountains.[1] Note that she is seated on waters, which symbolize “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (17:15), which is a fit emblem of Rome.  Note also that she is seated on Beast I.  See notes on v.12.

v. 8: I believe that the Harlot’s Beast is synonymous with Beast I.  Note the similarities:

  • Beast I has 7 heads and 10 horns (13:1)
  • The Harlot’s Beast has 7 heads and 10 horns (17:3)
  • Beast I received a fatal blow to one of its heads but was afterward healed, and, because of this miracle, “in amazement, the whole earth followed the beast” (13:3).
  • Similarly, the Harlot’s Beast “was [alive], and is not [alive], and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit [to live again] and go to destruction.[2] And the inhabitants of the earth…will be amazed when they see the beast because it was and is not and is to come.”
  • Beast I rises from the sea (13:1), which is a common metaphor for Chaos, the Abyss, and Death.[3]
  • The Harlot’s Beast will rise from the bottomless pit, i.e. the Abyss or Death.
  • On the heads of Beast I are blasphemous names (13:1).
  • The Harlot’s Beast is full of blasphemous names (17:3).
  • Understanding the number of Beast I “calls for wisdom” (13:18).
  • Understanding the symbolism of the Harlot’s Beast “calls for a mind that has wisdom” (17:9).  John does not use this phrase anywhere else in Revelation.

The seven heads of the beast represent seven mountains and seven kings.

Five of the kings “have fallen” (17:10), i.e. are dead.[4]

1

2

3

4

5

One of the kings “is living” (17:10) at the time John has the Revelation.

6

One of the kings is yet to come, but when he does it will only be for a little while (17:10).

7

The angel does not say exactly when the eighth king’s reign occurs relative to the other seven.[5] This eighth king has died, will come back to life, and is ultimately doomed to destruction (17:8,11).

8

John says that this eighth king “was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” Therefore, I believe he is the metaphorical antithesis of God.[6] God is he “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4), and Christ says of himself, “I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever” (1:18).  This eighth king, therefore, is the Antichrist.

Everyone that I have read agrees that the seven mountains are a reference to Rome, which is unique in being founded upon seven mountains.  As Oecumenius says, “This is a very clear indication that he is speaking about Rome, for Rome is described as seven-crested, and no other city is so called” (148-149).  Thus, it seems reasonable to believe that the seven kings, which the heads also represent, could be seven emperors of Rome.

If so, perhaps Domitian is the sixth king, the one who “is living” at the time John has the Revelation.[7] If that is true, then the five kings who “have fallen” should be five earlier emperors of Rome who have died.  It is interesting to note that, since the ascension of Christ there had been five emperors.[8] Perhaps the interpretation should look like this:

27 B.C.-14 A.D. Augustus Caesar: Christ is born in the reign of Augustus.

14 A.D.-37 A.D. Tiberius:  Christ ascends to heaven in the reign of Tiberius.

The 7 kings

Five of the kings “have fallen” (17:10), i.e. are dead.[9]

1 37 A.D.-41 A.D. Caligula

2 41 A.D.-54 A.D  Claudius

3 54 A.D.-68 A.D. Nero

4 69 A.D.-79 A.D. Vespasian

5 79 A.D.-81 A.D. Titus

One of the kings “is living” (17:10) at the time John has the Revelation.

6 81 A.D.-96 A.D. Domitian

One of the kings is yet to come, but when he does it will only be for a little while (17:10).

7 ?

8 Beast I (Antichrist)

Since the beast itself as a whole represents an eighth king who “belongs to the seven” (17:11) its interpretation is a little more difficult than the interpretations of its seven heads.  The seven heads seem to represent seven historical kings who appear sequentially in time.[10] However, in one sense or another, both of the following (seemingly contradictory) statements must be true about the beast:

1) The beast appears when the first of the seven kings appears in time

and

2) The beast does not appear in time until the eighth king.

The best explanation I have for this is that the beast represents an actual eighth king whose reign epitomizes the reigns of the earlier seven.  Thus, metaphorically, the beast first exists in time with the appearance of the first of the seven kings because this first king (as well as the following six) foreshadows the eighth king.  Then, literally, the beast appears in time with the appearance of the eighth king, who embodies the spirit of the former seven kings.  Notice in 13:3 that one of the seven heads receives a fatal blow.  I assume, therefore, that this blow could be said to kill the head that received it, as well as the beast itself.  I believe that the seventh head (king), the one who “must remain only a little while” is the best candidate for the head that receives the fatal blow.  Perhaps the eighth king (understood as an actual individual rather than as a metaphor for the whole) is the seventh king after the seventh king is resurrected.  This could also explain how the eighth king “belongs to the seven.”  He could belong in two ways:

1) He had actually been one of the first five kings.[11] Obviously, if this is the way he belongs to the seven, then he cannot be the resurrected seventh king.

2) His reign epitomizes the reigns of all the former seven kings.  If this is the way he belongs to the seven, then he may well be the resurrected seventh king.  

To be entirely consistent with the above method of explaining who six of the eight kings were, I suppose one might argue that the seventh and eighth kings ought to be the next two emperors after Domitian: Nerva and Trajan.  Nerva had a short reign (two years) which corresponds to the short reign of the seventh King; however, I cannot make the number of Trajan’s name come out to 666.

T 300

R 100

A 1

I 10

A 1

N 50

O 70

S 200

=732

T 300

R 100

A 1

I 10

A 1

N 50

=462

Besides this, Nerva and Trajan are considered the first two of the “five good emperors,” who are known to history for their good sense and reasonably just rule.  In the Middle Ages, Trajan was considered a virtuous Pagan.  Dante even puts him in heaven, probably because of the legend (from the Legenda Aurea) that he was resurrected by Pope Gregory the Great and baptized.  I, therefore, do not think that he is the Beast.  However, I also do not think this necessarily invalidates the theory that the five kings who have fallen are the emperors that I list above.

v. 12: The ten horns “are ten kings who have not yet [relative to John at the time he receives the Revelation] received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the [Harlot’s] beast.”  Their relationship to the Harlot’s Beast is similar to that of Beast II to Beast I, which makes me wonder if the 10 kings are Beast II.

Beast I must be associated in some way with the Roman Empire since the seven heads of Beast I represent the seven mountains upon which Rome is founded, and since Rome herself (the whore) rides upon Beast I (v. 3) just as Rome sits on the seven mountains (v.9).  Nevertheless, Beast I and these ten kings “will hate the whore…make her desolate and naked…devour her flesh and burn her with fire” (v.16).  I suspect that this means that the eighth king (a Roman emperor?) will, along with ten other (relatively minor?) kings, will be united in destroying the Roman Empire.

I suspect that one very significant key to interpreting who this beast is lies in a comparison of it with the fourth beast of Daniel 7:7-28.  Below are points of similarity.

  • Daniel’s fourth Beast represents the Roman Empire.
  • John’s Beast I represents the Roman Empire.
  • Daniel’s fourth Beast rises out of the sea (Daniel 7:3).
  • John’s Beast I rises out of the sea (Revelation 13:1).
  • Daniel’s fourth Beast has ten horns, which represent ten kings (7:24).
  • John’s Beast I has ten horns, which represent ten kings (Revelation 17:12).

For me, the most important point of similarity lies in the fact that both beasts seem to represent Rome.  John often borrows imagery from other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, but in John’s hands such imagery usually represents something other than it was meant to in the original.[12] However, in the case of Daniel’s fourth beast, I believe that John is not only borrowing the imagery, he is also using the imagery exactly as Daniel used it to represent Rome.  The most significant element in Daniel’s beast is the arrogant little horn which uproots three of the ten original to make room for itself.  The most significant element in John’s Beast is the “eighth king” who, although a king in the same class as those represented by the seven heads of Beast I, is not represented by a head.  He is just as closely associated with the ten horns (Revelation 17:12-13).  I wonder if John intended for this eighth king to be synonymous with the arrogant little horn of Daniel’s fourth beast.  Notice that ten horns, minus three horns, plus one arrogant little horn, makes 8 horns, the eighth of which is the arrogant little horn.  Might this be John’s eighth king?


[1] See notes on 17:9.

[2] See footnote on 1:17-18.

[3] See note on 4:6.

[4] I say the fallen ones are dead because the unfallen ones are either living or going to live (17:10).

[5] Nevertheless, if the eighth king “is not [living],” then I think we can assume he is dead at the time of the sixth king, who “is living.”

[6] He cannot be the literal antithesis of God.  God has no opposite.  He is unique.  The Beast (and Satan), however, may be considered the literal antithesis of the angel Michael.  See 12:7.

[7] See note on 3:10.

[8] For my reasons for counting the emperors after Christ’s ascension, see notes on chapter twelve.

[9] I say the fallen ones are dead because the unfallen ones are either living or going to live (17:10).

[10] This must be their interpretation, even if the specific, historical kings I have suggested above are incorrect.  Also, although they appear in sequence, I do not believe they necessarily have to follow one another in immediate succession.

[11] If the eighth king “is not,” (i.e. has died) by the time John receives the Revelation (the time of the sixth king), then he must have died before the sixth king, thus disqualifying the sixth and seventh kings from being the first incarnation of the eighth.

[12] Compare, for instance, Revelation 6:1-8 with Zechariah 6:1-5, or the two olive trees in Revelation 11 with those in Zechariah 4.

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