The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 132

The Seven Heads

Revelation 17:7.     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.

     John’s amazement had been directed toward the woman and her influence, but the angel mildly rebukes him.  The “mystery” of great Babylon involves not only the woman (that is, the religious system established at Babylon) but also the beast that carries her (that is, the totalitarian system of unified government established at Babylon).  Perhaps the gentle rebuke also suggests that John (and Christians in general) should have been more aware of these great world movements and influences than they had been heretofore.  It is, indeed, sadly true that most Christians tend to be so involved with their own personal needs and activities that they are little aware of the great plan of God and their own place in that plan.

     In any case, the mystery is about to be unveiled.  Not only the characters of the woman and the beast, but their relation to the seven heads and ten horns needs also to be understood.  This is not incidental, but vital, information for our guidance in the last days.

Revelation 17:8.     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.

     At first this angelic revelation still seems very enigmatic, and it has led to a number of quizzical interpretations.  Various candidates for the Antichrist, in the minds of various expositors of the past, including Nimrod, Judas Iscariot, Nero, and others, are expected by them to return from their incarceration in Hades, rise from the dead, and assume leadership of the last world empire.  Such interpretations ignore the fact that after men die in their sins, they will not rise until the last judgment (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:4-6, 12).  Satan does not control the keys of Hades and death (Revelation 1:18).  Only Christ can bring men back from the grave, and there is no suggestion in Scripture that He would allow such a thing in the case of such ungodly men as these.

     As we have seen, however, the beast is not an individual but a despotic world kingdom, raised up and energized by Satan.  This kingdom existed in the past, does not exist in the present, and will be revived in the future.  It could hardly be the revived Roman empire, as some expositors teach, however, since the Roman empire never has actually ceased, but continues in the various kingdoms and political systems which developed out of it.

     The Babylonian empire, on the other hand, perfectly meets all the biblical specifications for this beast.  It was the world’s first great empire and continued as an important power for almost two millennia.  Although the city survived to a small degree after its fall to the Persians, it was of little world significance in John’s day, and now, in our day, Babylonia is almost forgotten.  Yet, as we have seen, the Bible indicates that its great capital city will one day again be the capital of the world empire.  It is a kingdom that was, and is not, and yet is (or, better, “will be” in the coming days of John’s vision).

     Of course, kingdoms as such neither enter the abyss nor ascend form it.  This whole scene, however, is symbolic, and these “beast kingdoms” have all, in a figure, come from the wicked one.  Isaiah prophesied the fall of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon in the following striking words.  “That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!... Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth, it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.  All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?” (Isaiah 14:4-10).

     The wicked king of Babylon (Belshazzar perhaps), descending into Hades, is treated as symbolic of the fallen kingdom of Babylon.  But the human king of Babylon is really directed by Satan himself, who raised him up, possessed, and energized him.  Thus the “proverb against the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4) proceeds (in verses 12-15) to look beyond the human king to the real king of Babylon, the great rebel Lucifer.  He (Satan or Lucifer) accompanied the fallen king down to the abyss of Sheol, and will eventually be cast permanently into the lake of fire.

     However, that beast, specifically Satan, but symbolically the kingdom of Babylon that fell at the time its king was cast into Sheol, will someday ascend out of the abyss, and become a great world kingdom again (Daniel 5:22-30).

     This will be a most remarkable development in history, that a long-dead world kingdom and its great capital should suddenly be raised from the dead, as it were.  It will excite “wonder” (essentially the same word as “admiration” in verse 6) among those worldly-minded men and women who will shortly accept the mark of the beast.  The opulent beauty of rebuilt Babylon will probably contribute to the attraction that the beast has over the earth-dwellers.

     Almost incidentally in this context appears a remarkable clause: “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.”  These latter people apparently do not wonder at the beast, presumably because they have been instructed already, probably through reading this very section of the Apocalypse, to expect such a revival.  Those who receive the mark of the beast will thereby irrevocably reject Christ and be consigned to perdition (Revelation 14:9-11), thus having their names erased from the book of life in which they had been entered at the time of their conception (see discussion of Revelation 3:5; 13:8).  In the eternal counsels of God, however, who created both space and time and sees all things everywhere in all time at once, the blotting out of the names is concurrent with the writing of the names.  Thus, in God’s perspective, it is as though their names had never been entered at all.  Those whose names are not destined to be blotted out of the book, therefore, are those whom God has chosen and who have chosen Him.

Revelation 17:9.     And here is the mind which hath wisdom.  The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

     Those whose names are in the book of life also have minds of wisdom, and so can discern the nature, not only of the beast, but also of the harlot woman riding the beast.  This is similar terminology to that in Revelation 13:18: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”  In this latter passage, the spiritually-minded person is given the clue which will enable him to determine the identity of the beast as a man, before he is openly identified by the world.

     Now also, the mind that possesses biblical wisdom is given the needed clue concerning recognition of the beast’s kingdom and of the corrupt religious system which it fosters and uses, before the rest of the world can realize what is happening.

     The seven heads of the beast are said to represent seven mountains on which the woman sits.  This has been widely interpreted as the “seven-hilled city of Rome,” with the woman correspondingly identified as the Roman Catholic Church.

     Such an identification is wrong, however, for several reasons.  The Roman Catholic Church does not sit on the seven hills of Rome.  Its churches are all over the world and its headquarters only in Vatican City.  Furthermore, many cities have seven hills, and Rome itself has more than seven.  Besides that, a “hill” (Greek bounos) such as in Rome is not a “mountain” (Greek oros), and it is the latter word that is used here.

     The clearest interpretation is shown in the very next verse, which identifies the seven mountains as seven kings, with one being the beast mentioned in this chapter.  The latter we have already seen to represent a Satan-controlled kingdom, the first (and last) in a series of similar kingdoms, all comprising political Babylon.  Thus the scarlet-arrayed harlot is seen as supported through the ages by seven kingdoms.

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.

     The seven heads of the beast on which the harlot rides are thus interpreted as seven mountains, but these in turn are interpreted as seven kings.  The equating of mountains with kings requires yet another link in the chain to conform to scriptural example elsewhere.  That is, mountains often represent kingdoms, and each kingdom is usually equated with some prominent king at its head.

     For example, prophesying of the messianic kingdom coming in the millennium, Isaiah says “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).  Speaking of the same kingdom, the prophet Daniel said: “… and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35).  The interpretation of this mountain, which (in the emperor Nebuchadnezzar’s vision) had destroyed the great image representing the age-long succession of great world kingdoms, was as follows: “… the God of heaven [shall] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: … and the kingdom… shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).

     The symbolic nature of the beast and the whore requires the associated items in the vision also to be symbolic.  Whenever the meaning of a symbol is not explained in the immediate context, it should be found in related passages of Scripture.  The prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel, of course, provide background for much of the Apocalypse, and it is certainly reasonable to conclude from such passages as the above that the mountains in the vision represent kingdoms.

     The question is which kingdoms?  Again the image of Daniel 2 provides the key.  The golden head of the image was Nebuchadnezzar’s great empire centered at Babylon (Daniel 2:37, 38); the silver breast and arms were the Medo-Persian empire which displaced Babylon (Daniel 2:39, 5:28; 8:20); the brass belly and thighs represented the Grecian empire which superseded Persia (Daniel 2:39; 8:21).  Following the same progression, the legs of iron clearly represented the great Roman empire which would conquer Greece and most of the known western world (Daniel 2:40).  The Roman empire was still in power in John’s day so it must be the kingdom that “is.”

     Though none of these empires ever actually ruled the whole world, each was the greatest kingdom of its own time, particularly in reference to the land and people of Israel and these kingdoms’ opposition to the proclamation of God’s Word and the accomplishment of His purposes in the world.  And before these four (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), there had been two other great kingdoms, Egypt and Assyria, both of which also had been perpetual enemies of God, His Word, and His people.

     These, of course, have not been the only kingdoms that have been at enmity with God and His purposes.  In this category could also be placed such kingdoms as Syria, Edom, Moab, Midian, and many others, but none of these were empires of great size and influence.  On the other hand, there were other great and powerful empires in the ancient world – China, India, and the Incas, for example – but these had only peripheral contact with the Word of God and the chosen people.  There were only six kingdoms that met both criteria up to the time of Christ and the apostles.  Furthermore, all six of these were not only legitimate heirs of political Babel but also of religious Babel as well.  Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome were all strongholds of the world religion of evolutionary pantheism and idolatrous polytheism.  Thus, they appropriately are represented as six heads on the great beast that supports the harlot.

     Bt what kingdom, arising after John’s day, is represented by the seventh head?  There have been a goodly number of strong kingdoms that have opposed both Jews and Christians since the days of the Romans (the Mongol, Moslem, Fascist, and Communist nations, for example).  However, the particular kingdom prophesied here will exist for only “a short space,” in contrast to the first six, each of which continued over many centuries.  Further, like the other six, it must continue to support the great false religious system symbolized by the woman riding the beast.

     The reason why it is difficult to identify this seventh kingdom is probably because it is still future.  The various relevant prophecies in Daniel, especially the image prophecy of Daniel 2, indicate that the Roman empire continues for a long time.  The two “legs” of the image, the eastern and western divisions of the empire, were eventually perpetuated mainly in the two politico/religious cultures coming out of the originally monolithic empire.  Thus in a sublimated sense, the old Roman empire still exists, though in a different form, surviving in what today we call “east,” the Communist nations dominated by Russia, and “west,” the capitalist nations led by the United States and, to a lesser degree, by England, France, and Germany.  The two feet of Daniel’s image, partly iron and partly clay (Daniel 2:33, 41-43) quite possibly correspond to this particular stage of history.

     In this sense, therefore, the mighty empire of Rome existed as the key world kingdom both in the days of John’s lifetime and in the days to which John was translated in his vision.  It is the kingdom that “is.”

     The one which “is not yet come” must, therefore, correspond to the toes of Daniel’s image, the ten kingdoms which, in the last days, arise out of the “foot” stage of the image.  These are also the “ten horns” mentioned in this passage.  Since these have not yet arisen, it is probably premature to speculate as to their identity, although many current teachers are assuming the nations of Europe’s Common Market will be involved.  As discussed in Chapter 6, the political chaos that will follow the miraculous defeat of Gog and Magog in Israel, probably shortly before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period, will probably lead to the emergence of a strong new western alliance of ten kingdoms, possibly including some of the Communist nations, who refuse to participate in Gog’s invasion of Israel.  This seventh kingdom of John’s particular vision is probably this alliance, or possibly whichever nation dominates the alliance.  Some may choose to call this the “revived Roman empire” or, perhaps better, the “revised Roman empire.”

     These nations and cultures of Europe and America, while nominally Christian, especially in the “foot” stage of Daniel’s image, “partly strong and partly broken,” have been also the chief repository for the esoteric perpetuation of the religion of the great harlot.  As noted earlier, the modern religion of evolutionary humanism and occultism has permeated and dominated the schools and other institutions of all these nations for many decades, and has in fact been exported to all other nations as well.  But this is merely a modernized version of the same age-old pagan system introduced at Babel by Nimrod.  It may seem like a glamorous and sophisticated lady, clothed in the pseudo-scientific garments of intellectualism, religious ritualism, and opulent materialism to meet the tastes of the twentieth century, but underneath she is the same ancient whore.

     The seventh kingdom, composed of the ten-kingdom alliance, will not last very long.  Probably its duration is essentially the three-and-a-half years of the first half of the tribulation.  John has already learned (Revelation 13:7) that, at the midpoint of the tribulation, the Satan-empowered beast will then be given power over all kindreds, tongues, and nations.  This is further confirmed in the following verses.

Revelation 17:11.     And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

     At first there seems here to be an anomaly.  There are only seven heads on the beast, representing seven kings and their kingdoms.  But now there appears an eighth king, or kingdom, which is “of the seven.”  Furthermore, this later king turns out to be the beast himself.  So we have the entire beast somehow arising from the seven heads of the beast.   This strange cycle answers to the equally strange description of he beast as one who “was” and “is not” and yet “shall be” (verse 8).  It seems almost an attempt to counterfeit the resurrection of Christ, or at least to imitate the description of Him as the one who “liveth, and was dead; and, behold, [is] alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18).

     We have already been warned that this beast, this man of sin, will indeed present himself in just such a fashion.  He will receive a deadly wound, apparently die and descend into Hades, then suddenly seem to be resurrected and tell marvelous tales of his ascent from the great abyss (note Revelation 11:7; 13:3-6, 12; 17:8).

     The anomaly is resolved when we see that this beast is both a king and a kingdom, and that both are apparently resurrected, even though neither actually died.  The man of sin will indeed receive a wound which appears to be lethal – a “deadly” wound – but the Scripture does not say he actually dies.  Had he actually descended into Hades, he could not have returned, for Christ holds the key to Hades, not Satan.  Nevertheless, Satan is not yet bound there (Revelation 20:2, 3) and he can and does descend into the abyss to the extent Christ permits, likewise ascending form the abyss to continue his warfare in the heavenly places.  Satan also, as noted before, is symbolized by this beast, since he indwells and energizes him.  Probably the statement that he ascends from the abyss (or “bottomless pit”) applies specifically only to Satan.  While the beast lies apparently dead, he is really only in a deep trance or state of suspended animation, receiving from Satan revelations about Hades and his future role in the world as the dragon’s incarnation.

     In parallel and strikingly analogous fashion, the beast’s kingdom will also suddenly be revived.  Since it is “of the seven,” it partakes of the character of all of them, in a sense marking the resurrection of all these ancient nations, from Babel to Rome.  This is not surprising, since all manifest the same characteristics, political and religious, and all together are identified as Babylon the Great in mystery form.

     In various Old Testament prophecies, this final Antichrist is identified in one way or another with all six of these ancient empires.  He is identified with the Romans in Daniel 9:26, which notes that “the people of the prince that shall come” are the people who will destroy Jerusalem and the temple after Messiah’s rejection by the Jews.  The head of one of the four divisions of the Greek empire which preceded Rome was Antiochus Epiphanes, the “vile person” of Daniel 11:21, whose wickedness and violence against Jerusalem are taken as a type of the beast of the last days (note Daniel 8:23-25; 11:31-33).

     Among the Persians, the traditional “enemy of all the Jews” was Haman the Agagite (Esther 9:24), whose plot to annihilate them makes him also an appropriate type of the beast (compare Esther 3:8-10, 13 and Revelation 12:17; 17:4).  The Egyptians, likewise, were enemies of God’s people from the time of Abraham to the time of Jeremiah and especially in the time of Moses.  The Pharaoh of the Exodus, who also attempted to destroy all the children of Israel, becomes thereby also a type of the Antichrist.  Pharaoh is called “the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers” in Ezekiel 29:3, and is said to be “like in glory and greatness among the trees of Eden” (Ezekiel 31:18), but he and his people (like the beast) will be brought down to “the nether parts of the earth.”  More directly to the point the Antichrist is specifically called “the Assyrian” in a number of passages (e.g., Micah 5:5, 6; Isaiah 30:31; 31:8), possibly because of the close association of Assyria with Babylon in their origin and history (note Isaiah 23:13; Micah 5:6).  As far as Babylon is concerned, not only is Nimrod a type of the beast and Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 3:1-7) a type of the beast’s image, but the beast himself is here directly identified with Babylon the Great.

     It is also noteworthy that all those ancient nations will experience a measure of physical and political renewal in the last days, and presumably will continue as nations in the millennium.  Egypt and Assyria, for example, are specifically mentioned in such a context (Isaiah 19:23-25).  Persia is mentioned as one of the nations confederate with Gog and Magog in the latter days and Elam (essentially the same as Persia in the Bible) is going to be brought again from captivity in the latter days according to Jeremiah 49:39.

     Greece and Rome have continued active through the centuries, no longer as great political empires but nevertheless as viable nations, and all western nations still manifest their philosophical and cultural influence.  Of course, Egypt and Persia also still exist as nations today, and apparently all of these will be active nations during the coming millennium, except Babylon.

     Babylon will indeed be resurrected as a great city, capital of a worldwide empire.  She will be the eighth of these great kingdoms of the earth, arising out of them even as they all are also reviving.  Yet in mystery form, Babylon the Great has existed ever since Nimrod.  She has never actually died, even in a physical sense, and the great prophecies of her utter desolation in Isaiah and Jeremiah have never yet been really fulfilled.  But they will be!  Egypt and Assyria will be thriving nations in the millennium, but not Babylon.  “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19).  Just as her last and greatest king will be dispatched into perdition, so will mighty Babylon finally become and remain a desolation as long as the earth endures.

Website Builder