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Who Are The Seven Kings in Revelation 17?

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones (Conexiones Church) in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership. Author.

The Whore of Babylon Dresses The Part

Loyset Liédet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Loyset Liédet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

9 “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 Concerning the beast who was, and is not, he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to destruction.

12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom yet, but they will receive authority as kings for one hour with the beast. (Revelation 17:9-12, MEB).

Different Views

It has taken me a long time to make sense of Revelation 17:9-12 and the seven kings mentioned in it because these three verses pack a great amount of information. In order to unravel this passage, I have spent a great amount of time reading it, searching the Bible, and considering different possibilities.

I considered the seven kings of ancient Rome, the emperors of Rome, the kingdoms mentioned in the Bible (from Nimrod’s Babel to Rome), empires not mentioned in the Bible (the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Nazi Germany), the ten divisions of ancient Rome, the papacy, a future Roman empire, the rulers of Israel, and the rulers of kingdoms around Israel.

In case you are curious, The United States of America and China are not explicitly mentioned or represented in the text (or in Revelation), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will not be in existence when the Lord returns.

I also considered some historicist, preterist, idealist, and futurist interpretations. Overall, I would say that I have thought and prayed abut this for many hours throughout at least one year, amounting to days.

I thank the Lord because I have finally arrived to a conclusion that, I believe, is biblically plausible and correct. I can now preach about it.

The Prostitute

There are many reasons why the prostitue is the city of ancient Rome.

First, the book of Revelation is responding the peresecution of Christians and the recent or impending destruction of Jerusalem by Rome (whether recent or impending is still a matter of debate). Revelation was clearly written in the first century (sometime between the year 60 AD and 90 AD), some of the seven churches early in the book were clearly facing persecution, and the conquest by the rider on the white horse in Revelation 6 is clearly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (read my article on the four horsemen in Revelation 6 by clicking here).

Revelation 17 also gives us three clues that indicate the prostitue is the city of Rome. First, the woman is said to sit on seven mountains (Revelation 17:9), a reference many see to Rome and its seven hills. Although mountains aren't hills, Revelation belongs to the apocalyptic genre, so it is natural that small details are enlarged. Second, the woman is said to be drunk with the blood of the Lord's saints and martyrs (Revelation 17:6), a clear reference to the persecution of Christians by Rome, particularly under Emperor Nero. Third, the woman is identified as the city that rules over the kings of the Earth (Revelation 17:18), a description that was particularly true of Rome.

Although some have attempted to identify the woman as Jerusalem because she wears purple, scarlet, and jewels (details found in the priestly garment and ephod of Aaron in Exodus 39:1-14), the woman's garments are not Aaron's garments and ephod because her garments lack the color blue and include pearls: Aaron's garments included the color blue and the ephod did not include any pearls. The jewels, the pearls, the color purple, and the color scarlet can legitimately be interpreted as wealth (Daniel 5:29, Nahum 2:3).

Some also identify the woman as Jerusalem because Jerusalem is also called Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8). However, Revelation 11:8 clearly identifies Sodom and Egypt as Jerusalem, whereas Revelation 17 doesn't. In context, it is more logical that the woman is called Babylon because, like Babylon, Rome destroyed the temple in 70 AD. It is also very likely that what the vision means is that, just as Jerusalem is Egypt and Sodom in a spiritual sense (because of its character), Rome is also like Babylon in a spiritual sense. Moreover, since this woman (prostitute) that is called Babyon finds itself in the wildnerness (Revelation 17:3), the book of Revelation may be indicating that she is the fulfillment of the woman who represents wickedness and is in a basket in Shinar (Zechariah 5:7, 11).

Taking all these points in consideration, it is more probable lhat the prostitute in Revelation 17 is the city of Rome, not Jerusalem (much less literal Babylon).

The Seven Kings

What the Heads Represent

According to Revelation 17:9-10, the seven heads of the beast are also seven kings. Revelation does not say kingdoms, but kings. Because these are in proximity to the woman, which represents Rome, they are more likely Roman kings, not the kings of Babel, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, or Greece. Also, the scarlet beast in Reveltion 17 is most likely a refernce to Nero, like the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 (read my article on the beast of the sea by clicking here).

However, at the time Revelation was written, Rome was ruled by emperors, not kings. Nevertheless, it is likely that the word king is being used in a general sense to conceal the true meaning (remember, this is apocalyptic writing).

Also, one should not overlook the play on words: the heads of the beast are also the heads of Rome. This play on words is not without biblical precedent (Daniel 2:38, 7:6, 1 Corinthians 11:5). Note that the head that the woman dishonors in 1 Corinthians 11:5 is her husband (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Order of The Heads

Concerning the heads, the text indicates that, at the time Revelation was written, five heads had already fallen, the sixth head was ruling, and the seventh head would follow for a short time (Revelation 17:10).

Taking in consideration that events in the book of Revelation go back to the Lord's birth, which took place during the reign of Caesar Augustus (Revelation 12:5, Luke 2:1), the seven emperors represented by the heads are:

  1. August
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Vespasian
  7. Titus

According to the article "List of Roman Emperors" on britannica.com, Titus ruled for only a couple of years—a short time in comparison to the other emperors I identified above.

Although Galba, Otho, and Vitellius each ruled for a few months between Nero and Vespasian, there is are good reasons not to include them in the count: they were the three horns that were removed in Daniel 7:8 (Galba was murdered, Ottho committed suicide, Vitellius was murdered). Thus, the reason Revelation presents 7 horns instead of 10 horns is that Revelation expects the reader to understand that Daniel 7:8 has already been taken into account: the beast with seven heads in Revelation 17 is the fourth beast with seven horns in Daniel 7, after its three horns were removed (that fourth beast is the Roman empire). Another reason why Revelation presents the beast with only seven horns is to emphasize divine providence (seven is a symbolic and key number throughout the book of revelation).

The Scarlet Beast

Its Identity

Having identified the seven emperors whom the seven heads represent, it is important to note that Revelation 17 adds one more king. This eighth king is represented by the scarlet beast itself, so he corresponds to Daniel's little horn (Revelation 7:8).

The reason this scarlet beast had been, was not, and would soon arise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction is that it is a reference to the legend of Nero Redivivus. This implies that Revelation was written at a time when Nero was already dead and was expected to resurrect (an implication that is consistent with the view that Revelation implies it was written during the reign of Vespasian).

Thus, the eighth king in Revelation 17 (the little horn and eleventh king in Daniel 17) is a resurrected Nero. This, however, does not mean that Revelation teaches that Nero would resurrect to rule again. Instead, it means that, according to Revelation, a ruler like Nero would arise in the future.

Like the heads of the beast, which represent mountains and kings, the scarlet beast itself represents the fourth beast in Daniel 7 and eighth king in Revelation 17.

The Time Lapse

It is important to realize that this does not mean that the eighth king was Domitian, as preterists propose (there was hardly a persecution under Domitian). Daniel's little horn did not grow together with the first ten horns, but sometime after them. Likewise, this eighth king is not a head together with the other seven kings, but in itself a beast (the little horn in Daniel 7 and the beast from the sea in Revelation 13). By separating the little horn from the ten horns, and by identifying the eighth king as the beast, not a head, both prophecies hint that there will be an indefinite period of time between the seven Roman emperors and the "resurrected" Nero. This matter, however, can only be settled by comparing these prophecies with the rest of the Scriptures (a task that exceeds the capacity of this article, but you should check my article on the abomination of desolation by clicking here).

The Ten Kings

Revelation 17:12-13 also speaks of ten kings represented by the ten horns on the scarlet beast. Like the scarlet beast, these ten horns will also rule in the future, and they will follow (be led by) the scarlet beast (the "resurrected" Nero).

It is important to understand that these ten horns in Revelation 17 do not correspond to the ten horns in Daniel 7. These ten kings are found nowhere in Daniel 7, instead they are an additional detail about Daniel's little horn that was not previously revealed to Daniel. Moreover, these ten kings are not necessarily a future Roman empire—personally, I think that is unlikely. It is possible that they are ten nations (or regions) in the Middle East.

The Judgement

I find it unlikely that the ten future kings are a future Roman empire simply because, according to Revelation 17, these ten kings and the beast (the "reurrected" Nero) will hate the city of Rome (in other words, the Roman empire), turn against it and burn it down (Revelation 17:16). Note that this burning of the city of Rome is another reference point back to Nero, who also burnt Rome down (although, in a much smaller scale).

Why do these ten kings and the beast hate the city of Rome? Revelation 17:17 tells us this is something God has put in their hearts. In the book of Revelation, the future burning of the city of Rome is God's judgment on the Roman empire—for us, living some 2,000 years later after the prophecy was given, it is a prophecy (a type or foreshadow) of what will transpire in the future.

One main point made by the book of Revelation for its original audience is that God will judge Rome for its persecution of Christianity and Israel. For us, the generations after Revelation's original audience, the message is that Rome, Europe, and the world will eventually find themselves in a great world war that will precede the Lord's return.

If I am correct in my interpretation of Revelation and the things taking place in our times both in Israel and the Middle East—and the world—we are on the brink of the events foretold in this prophecy. Believe in Jesus and repent before time is up.

Who Is Babylon in Revelation?

© 2021 Marcelo Carcach

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