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Particulars of Christianity:
314 End Times Prophecy (Eschatology)


Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 1)

Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 1)
Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 2)
Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 3)
Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 4)
Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 5)
Prophetic Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 6)


Articles 7-12
Articles 13-18
Articles 19-25
Articles 26-29



As we examine the text of Revelation 17, we will find that it touches on several aspects, which we have already seen in both Daniel and Revelation 13 and that it corroborates our interpretation of the symbols found in those passages.

Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. 7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. 14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. 15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

Of course, one of the prominent figures of chapter 17 is this great prostitute. But because she is a new entity that we have not discussed so far in our study, we will first cover the items in this chapter that relate to what we have already examined in our survey of Daniel and Revelation 13.

When we read this passage, we notice right away from verse 3 that chapter 17 involves a beast with seven heads and ten horns. The unique traits of this beast tell us that it is the same beast described in detail in Revelation 13:1-10, which we have just examined. As we saw from our examination of Revelation 13, it represents a succession of seven empires, just as Daniel 2 represents that succession of empires in a single statue. And, we also saw from Revelation 13, one of these seven heads is revived from a fatal sword wound, which represents that one of the former empires is brought back into existence. We will see that Revelation 17 elaborates on both of these points.

First, we will see what this chapter has to say about the seven heads of the beast in general. Then we will discuss what it has to say about the revived head specifically. With regard to the seven heads, perhaps the next item of significant interest is verses 9-10. In verses 9-10 we are told specifically what the heads of this beast represent.

Revelation 17:9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

Verse 9 begins by telling us that it calls for wisdom to comprehend the interpretation that is about to be given in verse 9-10. This is significant because it implies that simply reading these 2 verses won't tell us what we want to know unless we have some insight that will help us comprehend what is being said. Now, that insight does not mean we have some personal or subjective Revelation from the Holy Spirit. While the Holy Spirit is no doubt helping us if we do, in fact, understand these things, the insight needed is really a simple familiarity with the way these symbols are already used throughout the Bible. If we do not have that familiarity of symbolic precedent, then even the simple statements in verses 9 and 10 will not yield a proper understanding for us.

A quick statement needs to be made regarding the Greek grammar in these two verses. In the English it appears that the seven heads "are seven mountains" while "there are seven kings." To English-readers, this may seem to imply that the heads correspond directly to and represent only the mountains while the seven kings relate less directly and only in terms of their number. This results primarily by the occurrence of the word "there" in verse 10 of English translations ("And there are seven kings.") This word "there" seems to separate the heads from the kings.

In the Greek, however, verse 10 does not contain a word for there, so that the text of verses 9 and 10 with regard to the mountains and kings is actually identical. In the Greek, these verses read as "The seven heads are seven mountains...and are seven kings." The rendering of the Greek verb for are is in the same tense in both verse 9 and 10 and, as we have said, the word "there" does not appear in the Greek. From this we can see that the heads represent both the mountains and the kings directly and equally. The seven heads represent both seven mountains and seven kings.

Since the heads represent both mountains and kings directly, ALL of the statements that are made of the heads would have to make sense when applied to both mountains and kings. In Revelation 13, we have one head mortally wounded by the sword and then revived of its wound. Since a head is both a mountain and a king, this event would have to be true for both the mountain and the king. Or in other words, both the mountain and the king would have to be wounded by the sword and then revived.

It has been suggested that the seven mountains are the seven hills of Rome. But can the word "mountains" in Revelation 17:9 refer to literal mountains or hills, such as the seven hills of Rome? No.

It is not hard to imagine a king being mortally wounded by a sword and revived in some sense, either literally or metaphorically, but how would that description of a mortal wound and then a restoration work for one of the literal seven hills of Rome?

How could a literal hill be wounded by the sword? How could a literal hill be revived of a mortal wound? Moreover, if these are the literal seven hills of Rome, how is it that only 1 out of the 7 hills of Rome would be wounded or revived and the others not? By interpreting mountains as literal mountains or hills, we have a symbol (seven-headed beast) that receives an action (wounding by the sword and restoration) that does not make sense for the interpretation (literal hills or mountains.)

Therefore, interpreting the term "mountain" as the literal seven hills or mountains of Rome is incompatible with the rest of the description of the symbol of a "head" as something that can be both wounded by the sword and revived. Since these mountains cannot be the literal seven hills of Rome, we must seek an interpretation of "mountains" that does work with this description of a wounded and restored head as well as that description works for a king.

We recall that John begins verses 9 and 10 by telling us that understanding this interpretation calls for wisdom. Throughout the Old Testament in prophetic literature the term "mountain" is sufficiently established as a reference to nations. It is used three times by Jeremiah, once by Ezekiel, once by Daniel, once by Amos, and once by Habakkuk, for a total of 7 times. (Jeremiah 17:3, Jeremiah 50:6-8, Jeremiah 51:24-25, Ezekiel 34:5-13, Daniel 2:35, 44-45, Amos 6:1-2, Habakkuk 3:6-7.) It is used to describe Israel in the present age, the earthly reign of Jesus Christ, Babylon, Cush, Media, Samaria, and the nations in general.

Since we are interpreting "mountain" itself as a reference to a "nation," it might be said that we are interpreting the "enigma" of the "seven heads" with another "enigma" or "symbolic representation." Thus, you have one symbol being given as the interpretation of another symbol, when normally an enigma is interpreted by giving a plain or literal item, such as a "king." However, as we can see from the passages above, the term "mountain" is an established and plain reference to kingdoms in apocalyptic literature, even though it is poetic in nature. It is not enigmatic but an established term that stands in sufficiently as a clear interpretation of the vision, despite its poetic nature. So, it is not one enigma interpreting another, one visionary symbol interpreting another, but a poetic term with an established meaning being given as the interpretation of an enigma. After all, John is told "this calls for wisdom" which at the very least would imply the interpreter must be familiar with common Old Testament apocalyptic language, such as the use of the term "mountain" to refer poetically to nations.

So, if we interpret "mountains" not as literal hills (which cannot be singled out and wounded by the sword or revived), but as an established poetic term for nations, it makes perfect sense that a "head" is wounded by the sword and revived. Such a description would apply equally well to both a king and a nation or empire so that the description of head wounded and restored works perfectly well for both items that a "head" represents.

And finally, when we compare this interpretation of a "mountain" as a nation with our symbolic precedent, we find that it is completely consistent. First, Daniel 2:35, 44-45 specifically uses the term "mountain" to refer to the kingdom of the Messiah. Second, by associating a single symbol (heads) with both kingdoms and their kings, this interpretation fits perfectly with Daniel 7:17,23 where a single symbol of a "beast" represents both king and their kingdoms as well.

Third, since we have identified the four-headed leopard of Daniel 7 as a representation of how the Grecian empire would split into four smaller kingdoms, just as plainly foretold concerning Greece in Daniel 8, to interpret each "head" as a kingdom is completely consistent with the precedent for how that symbol is used in Daniel 7. Conversely, since the heads of the Grecian leopard in Daniel 7 do not represent hills, to interpret "heads" in Revelation as a literal hills would be inconsistent with the precedent and would require a different and distinct meaning for a previously used symbol. And to use the same symbol with two different meanings would be confusing and misleading to say the least.

Therefore, it makes sense that by employing the symbol of "heads," Revelation is also discussing kings and their kingdoms and remaining consistent with this direct correspondence between the two and remaining consistent with the precedent of that symbol as well.

Using this interpretation that a mountain is a kingdom, for a mountain to be wounded by the sword and then revived would indicate simply that a kingdom defeated by the sword of war is brought back into existence and prominence. This would fit perfectly with the comments we made from Revelation 13 regarding the meaning of the phrase brought back from the sword as it is used in Ezekiel 38:2, 8. As we saw at that point in our study, the use of the phrase "brought back from the sword" in Ezekiel 38 clearly demonstrates that this phrase refers to a land or nation being restored to existence after being overcome through war.

Now that we have seen in chapter 13 and chapter 17 that a head represents both a nation or king and that one of those heads (nations and kings) is brought back from the sword, which is consistent with the recurring iron of Daniel 2 and the use of that description in Ezekiel 38, we will now move on to discuss the details of what Revelation 17 tells us about these seven kings. In this detailed description of the seven kings, we will find not only further corroboration for our interpretation of the succession of empires and our interpretation that the Roman empire is restored to coexist with another empire in the last days, but we will also find further information about these kings, which we relates to other issues we have covered from our survey of Daniel and the New Testament.

Revelation 17:10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

First, Revelation 17:10 corroborates our interpretation that the seven heads of Revelation 13's first beast are a succession of kings and kingdoms rather than contemporaries. Second, these seven kings correspond to the following imperial kingdoms, which they ruled over. The five that are fallen were: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece. The one that was, when John was writing Revelation, is Rome. And then there was one yet to come after Rome. And this seventh, which would come after Rome, would exist only for a short space or time. This is consistent with the symbolic precedent and the depiction of the succession we have seen so far from our examination of Daniel and history.

Now that we have identified these kingships and their kingdoms, can we identify from Revelation 17, which one of these seven will be revived as depicted in Revelation 13? Revelation 17:8 and 11 tell us.

Revelation 17: (8a) The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, (8b) when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is...11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

Now, we have stated repeatedly up to this point that Rome is the empire or head, which is revived and we have just stated that Revelation 17:10 describes Rome as the one that "is." So, if among the seven, Rome "is" and Revelation 17:8 and 11 state that the beast out of the bottomless pit "is not," how can Rome be the beast out of the bottomless pit?

Well, first we need to note that there is a difference between verse 8a and verse 8b. Verse 8a describes the beast as "was, is not; and shall ascend." In the Greek, these verbs are rendered in the past, present, and future tenses respectively. However, verse 8b describes the same beast as "was, is not, and yet is." In verse 8b, the Greek renders "is not" and "yet is" using the exact same present tense. In fact, the word "is" in the phrases "is not" and "yet is" is the same Greek word.

NOTE: These verb tenses are taken from the Textus Receptus, the Greek manuscripts on which the King James Version of the Bible is based. Therefore, since our interpretation depends upon the particular tenses of the verbs in verse 8b, we should note that our rendering of those tenses has as much validity as the manuscript evidence behind the King James Bible, the Textus Receptus. Thus, no one can question our rendering of those verses without likewise questioning the integrity of the manuscript evidence behind the King James Version. And while many do question the validity of the manuscripts behind the King James version, our rendering of these verb tenses is no less legitimate than the validity of the Textus Receptus itself.

Additionally, because John clearly makes both statements (that the beast "is not" and that the beast "yet is" in the present tense), it is not as though we are ignoring John's statement that the beast "is not" in the present tense. We are simply favoring the "yet is" in the present tense over the "is not" AND in accordance with numerous other factors as described in this study (particularly 1 John 4:1-4, which we will cover later). And, in either case, we would be forced to favor one of these two, the "is not" or "yet is," and interpret the other in light of it.

Or in other words, because both are rendered in the present tense and because one is the negation of the other, we are forced to choose, one way or another, that one of these is not true of the beast at the present time of the first century. We are simply choosing the "yet is" to be true of the first century present tense, while others choose that the "is not" is true in the first century present tense. So, even those who oppose our interpretation that the beast "yet is" in the first century, must do so while themselves favoring the "is not" in the same way we are favoring the "yet is" since both are rendered in the present tense. Therefore, their criticism of our interpretation on this point is invalidated by the fact that they necessarily commit the same process as they are asserting is problematic on our end.

So, the question is, why does verse 8b state that this beast "is not and yet is?" What is verse 8b indicating?

The key comes in the fact that verse 8b is situated between verse 8a and 10.

Starting with the phrase "And here is the mind which hath wisdom" in verse 9, John is being given an interpretation of the imagery involving the woman and the beast she rides on. Thus, verse 10 is part of the interpretation of that imagery. Because verse 10 denotes five kings have fallen, one is, and one is yet to come, the usefulness of verse 10 as an interpretation becomes obscured if verse 10 does not refer to the present situation that existed when John was writing Revelation. In other words, if by verse 10 John was attempting to describe the status at some other time besides his own in the first century AD, then verse 10 would quickly become devoid of meaning. What good would it do us to know that five have fallen, one is, and one is yet to come, if we could not identify when that situation existed? Therefore, verse 10 would lose its value for interpreting the vision unless it is grounded in the present realities of the first century.

This variation in 8b is a transition from verse 8a to verse 10. While verse 8a states that this beast "is not" in the present tense, verse 8b tells us that it "yet is" in the present tense. We must realize that the last description of the beast prior to verse 10 is that it "yet is" in the present tense. So, the one that "is" in verse 10 is a reference back to the "yet is" in verse 8b, which is the nearest previous description of the beast.

We should note at this point that as a matter of fact, verse 8b does tell us that the beast "is not" and "yet is" rendering both in the present tense in the Greek. So, it is indisputable that the beast "yet is" in the present tense. In fact, it is just as true to assert that the beast "yet is" in the present tense as it is to assert that the beast "is not" in the present tense. The question then becomes, why do verses 8a and 11 describe the beast as "is not" in the present tense, if verses 8b and 10 assert that the beast did, in fact, exist in the present tense? Why the discrepancy?

Verse 8b is telling us that while a description of the beast in terms of his overall history can be summed up in the phrase, "was, is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit," nevertheless in the time that John was writing this beast "yet is." Therefore, verse 8b is explaining that the beast who in his overall history "was, is not, and yet shall ascend out of the bottomless pit" (8a) is the king that verse 10 describes as the "one" that "is" or "yet is" in the succession of the seven kings, before whom "five have fallen," and after whom one must come "for a short space." So, the description of the beast in verses 8a and 11 are meant as a depiction of the overall history of the beast, which is evident in its inclusion of past, present, and future realities regarding that beast, while verse 8b is meant to describe the beast in terms of the specific present reality of John's day.

The fact that the beast that "was, is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit" is one of the kings from verse 10's succession is clearly corroborated by verse 11 which states "the beast that was, is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition." The only question then, is which one of these seven kings is he? And this series of verses is provided to help us answer this question so we can properly identify this beast. The answer to this question is provided for us in verse 8b where we are informed that the beast is the king that "yet is" in the succession of the seven kings provided in verse 10. He is the "one" that "is" or "yet is" in John's time.

Since the beast "yet is" in John's time and, therefore, is the king that "is" among the succession of seven kings, this further corroborates that Rome is the head (king and empire) that are revived. In fact, the overall description of the history of this beast given in verse 8a and 11 are meant as a depiction of this existence, cessation, and restoration. That is worth repeating. The phrases "was, and is not; and shall ascend" and "was, and is not...and goeth to perdition" is a description of this beasts existence and presence on earth, followed by the cessation of his presence when he is put into the pit, and followed finally by his release from the abyss, restoration to power for a short time and then re-imprisonment in the pit during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth. This is also what is reflected in chapter 13's depiction of the head that was wounded by the sword and then healed. When we read verse 8a and 11 we must ask, why is the beast described as "is not?" The simple answer is that the beast "is not" because for a time it is in the bottomless pit. This is evidenced by the fact that after it "is not" it "shall ascend out of the bottomless pit." Therefore, to say that the beast "was" and "is not" is to indicate that it was not in the bottomless pit, then it will go into the bottomless pit, and then finally it will ascend back out of the bottomless pit. However, as we have said, verse 8b tells us that at the time John was writing this beast "yet is" and so we know that it was not yet in the bottomless pit at the time John was writing.


Related Images



Figure 1.1
This animated sequence
illustrates how the term
"beast" can focus in on
1 of 3 distinct aspects
of the same overall entity.
1.) The seven-headed empire system
2.) The revived head
or revived empire
3.) The 8th king who becomes head of both.




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