End Times Prophecy (Eschatology) Prophetic
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 1)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 1)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 2)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 3)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 4)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 5)
Symbols: Revelation 17 (Part 6)
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
This animated sequence
illustrates how the term
can focus in on
1 of 3 distinct aspects
of the same overall entity.
The seven-headed empire system
2.) The revived head
3.) The 8th king who becomes head of both.
Historic Map Series
7 Heads of