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3.2.4. Seven HeadsKings

In the book of Daniel, all we find mentioned in relation to the sequence of kingdoms is the four beasts and the corresponding four metals of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. There, we find that the fourth beast has ten horns, but nowhere is there explicit mention of seven heads (but see Daniel saw Seven Heads). We do find one helpful bit of information related to our topic because the ten horns were said to be on the head of the fourth beast. This is helpful when we come to the book of Revelation because it hints at a correlation between beasts and heads and indicates that the ten horns are found upon the head of the last beast, not distributed across several heads. When Daniel sees his vision, the duration of all four beast/kings is yet future. Thus, he was shown four beasts, which are said to be “four kings which arise out of the earth” (Dan. Dan. 7:17).1 At the time John wrote Revelation, all four beasts had already arisen. Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece had already come and gone and the initial phase of the Roman empire was in progress. Thus, John’s vision in relation to the identity of the kings is from a perspective of his day, taking in the entire sweep of history—past, present and future. John’s beast has seven heads [#16-#4] (Rev. Rev. 13:1+; Rev. 17:3+, Rev. 17:7+).

Daniel makes the number less; but he started with his own times, and looked only down the stream. Here the account looks backward as well as forward. That which is first in Daniel is the third here, and that which is the sixth here is the fourth in Daniel. Only in the commencing point is there any difference. The visions of Daniel and the visions of John are of the same Divine Mind, and they perfectly harmonize, only that the latest are the amplest.2

John’s view takes in seven heads which are said to be seven kings (Rev. Rev. 17:9-10+). John is told:

Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. They are (εἰσιν [eisin] ) seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. (Rev. Rev. 17:9-10+).3

The heads are mountains upon which the woman sits. They are also kings. Some attempt to identify these as literal kings or emperors of Rome:

The view is promising only until one tries to apply it to specific kings. Does one begin counting with Julius Caesar or with Caesar Augustus? The answer to this is purely arbitrary. Are all the emperors counted or just the ones that emphasized emperor worship? This, too, is arbitrary. Are Galba, Otho, and Vitellius excluded because of the shortness of their reigns? If so, this is quite arbitrary. For those who resort to counting emperors, the text is enigmatic beyond hope. If John wrote Revelation during Nero’s reign, the Roman emperors are too few. If he wrote it during Domitian’s reign, they are too many.4

Aune enumerates nine different schemes for counting the kings. Beale designates five such schemes.5

We have seen elsewhere in Scripture that kingdoms are often represented by their kings or as mountains (e.g., Jer. Jer. 51:25; Dan. Dan. 2:35).6 We also note that the Harlot, who sits on the heads is considered to be the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. Rev. 17:5+). This implies her origin in distant history past and argues for an understanding of the kings as kingdoms spanning long periods of time. Yet wisdom is required to identify the heads which are kings: which kings or kingdoms do they represent? We take the heads/mountains/kings to represent kingdoms rather than individual kings associated with a single kingdom. Regardless of the identity of the first two of the fallen kingdoms (Babel and Egypt or Egypt and Assyria, see #5 - Five Fallen Kings), the next four are identified by Daniel’s vision (#8 - Four Beasts/Kings) making Rome the sixth which ruled at the time of the Revelation. John is shown two additional kings yet future, a seventh and an eighth:7

These are seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. (Rev. Rev. 17:10-11+)8 [emphasis added]

The eighth king is not one of the seven heads/mountains/kings, but arises from the seven (Rev. Rev. 17:11+). This passage is somewhat confusing because it is accounting for the fact that a single king will represent both of the kingdoms which are future to John’s vision. The Antichrist, the Beast, arises out of the seventh kingdom, but also suffers a wound and is revived to rule as an undisputed eighth king:

The preferred scheme is that the five who have fallen are the kingdoms of the past which have persecuted God’s people [see #5 - Five Fallen Kings] . . . The one that remains is Rome, the persecutor of God’s people when John was writing. The seventh is the final great persecutor, the reunited Roman Empire headed up by Antichrist, and the eighth is the final form of Gentile world rule—the final empire of Antichrist, which will arise from the seventh after the Antichrist dies and comes back to life.9

The seven heads are said to have names of blasphemy (Rev. Rev. 13:1+; Rev. 17:3+). “The ‘names of blasphemy’ . . . on the beast’s heads are names that amounted to words or conduct injurious to God’s honor and holiness.”10 The heads themselves—the kingdoms they represent—blasphemed God. The tendency of great kings to regard themselves as divine, their rule having been gained by their own hand, and their opposition to God and his people is legend (e.g., 2K. 2K. 19:6; Ps. Ps. 74:10; Isa. Isa. 37:6; Isa. 52:5; Dan. Dan. 4:30; Dan. 5:23).

Notes

1 It is significant that the text does not say “four kings which shall arise out of the earth.” The first king (Nebuchadnezzar) had already arisen at the time of the vision.

2 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), Rev. 17:10.

3 Concerning inaccuracies in the KJV and NKJV, see commentary on Revelation 17:10.

4 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 17:10.

5 Andy Woods, What is the Identity of Babylon In Revelation 17-18?.

6 “Adding to the case for identifying these as kingdoms is the appropriateness of the verb ἔπεσαν [epesan] to speak of a kingdom’s fall (e.g., Rev. Rev. 14:8+; Rev. 18:2+) (Alford).”—Thomas, Revelation 8-22, Rev. 17:10.

7 Fruchtenbaum offers a unique interpretation of the seven heads as types of Roman Government: the Tarquin Kings (753-510 B.C.); the Counsulors (510-494 B.C.); the Plebians or Dictators (494-390 B.C.); the Republicans or Decimverse (Oligarchy of Ten, 390-59 B.C.); the Triumvirate (59-27 B.C.); imperialism (27 B.C. - present); absolute imperialism (the Antichrist). [Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 42] Scott offers a related view, “The seven heads on the Beast represent seven successive forms of government from the rise of the fourth universal empire on through its history till its end. ‘Five have fallen.’ These are Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, and Military Tribunes. ‘One is.’ This is the sixth, or imperial form of government set up by Julius Caesar, and under which John was banished to Patmos under Domitian.”—Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), Rev. 17:9-13. Neither view provides a head for the beast which the Harlot sits upon if she is a mother of harlots that predates the early Rome.

8 Concerning inaccuracies in the KJV and NKJV, see commentary on Revelation 17:10.

9 Mark Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 145.

10 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, Rev. 13:1.