(cf. Revelation 17:7-14)
Now, “And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. He’s going to describe the woman what he describes as the wild beast. Now, notice what he says, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction.” – that theme is going to be developed in the sense of 10 kings, and this one is one of the most controversial passages in all the book of Revelation. But it is the central passage for those who believe that the book has a historical orientation particularly to the Roman Empire because i think this system fits Rome better than some other systems. The basis of this goes back to chapter 13 where the Beast looked like it was slain but it was alive. Some see that this is the background of the aforementioned. Others see this as the myth that Nero would come back to life and invade the Roman Empire. And still others see this is simply a way of speaking of a godless world system that is not always as dominant as other times in history.
“And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.” –
We’re talking obviously about something that is going to be a powerful thing that’s going to win the world back. That’s why I think it may possibly an allusion back to chapter 13. Now this beautiful little phrase, “…from the foundation of the world.” goes back to chapter 13:8. Now, when it says, “…will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come”, he holds off for a minute on that, but in verse 9, he says, ‘… Here is the mind which has wisdom.” – men have always thought their minds were packed with wisdom, especially commentators. It’s amazing to me as I read commentaries on Revelation, how arrogant some of these men are that their position is the only position, when in reality our presuppositions often interpret these very ambiguous apocalyptic prophetic symbols of the book of Revelation. Now notice as it says, “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits,…” – this is an obvious allusion to Rome in the ancient world used quite often by ancient writers. “…and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.” – the obvious definition here is to go back to the Roman emperors. I must admit there’s a little trickery here; where you start and who you leave out, and all of that, and it’s not as precise as we wish it would be. And the problem is, if you put it in the context of Roman emperors, it would seem it was written during the reign of Vespasian, when most of the early writers assure us it was written during the reign of Domitian. So there is a problem with this, but this view seems to answer the most questions; the five emperors would be: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The identification of the sixth depends whether we accept Galba, Otho and Vitellius as emperors. If so, he will be Galba. If not, he will be Vespasian, and Titus is the seventh who is to have a short reign. But another commentator, Hendriksen, thinks that the kings symbolize not individual rulers but empires. The five which have fallen are the Old Babylonian, the Assyrian, the New Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Graeco-Macedonian. The one that is the Roman, and the seventh, yet future, may stand for all anti-Christian governments between the fall of Rome and the final empire of the antichrist. Since the eight is ‘of the seven’, the final kingdom of antichrist may arise in one of the ancient seats of empire. For a third interpretation, that of Alan Johnson’s, he says that all these numbers are symbolic. They weren’t meant to be taken in history, as the numbers in Revelation mostly are. And he sees it as an allusion to Satan and the beast and their different manifestations. A fourth interpretation would see that the whole thing is completely symbolic and referring to the current battle between good and evil that is manifested in every age. I think Rome is the best historical interpretation we have. I think the kingdoms fit quite well, but I think that there is no specific historical allusion here. I think it goes far beyond that, that’s why we have so much trouble interpreting. But I want to tell you this prophecy is extremely specific and I’m very uncomfortable taking it all symbolic.
Now notice then where it says in verse 12, “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.” – who are these? Well, the fact that they’re called ten kings and they who have not yet become kings seems to eliminate that as Roman empires. Others have said, it’s an allusion back to Daniel 7:23-24. I must admit to you Daniel 7 is the backdrop for most of this imagery, because in Daniel 7 is the ‘little horn’ that really is the end-time antichrist. While in Daniel 8 the ‘little horn’ is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler during the Maccabean period. Others say it’s the demonic horde of chapter 9. Others say it’s the end-time world rulers, but the number 10 is symbolic, not literal. The vast majority thinks it’s the vassal kings which Rome fits best. Now it says, “for one hour” – this may mean that their reigns will be short as we count time or rather short as God counts time. To us they may appear great, but to God they reign for but one unimportant hour. This is a great encouragement for these persecuted Christians that God is indeed in control of history. These ten kings will make war upon the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, and notice, the saints are going to participate in Jesus’ victory. He calls us “the called and chosen and faithful.”, we are His retinue, not His resources. We represent no independent source of aid, for He needs none, in fact we depend on Him, but we share His triumph. Hallelujah! (TO BE CONTINUED)