This phrase should read And they are seven kings (NASB95). The KJV and NKJV translations are misleading here. The KJV begins the verse with, And there are seven kings. The NKJV says, There are also seven kings. All the Greek texts, although differing in word order, include the following words, Καὶ βασιλεῖς εἰσιν ἑπτά [Kai basileis eisin hepta] , and kings they are seven.1 The words there and also in the KJV and NKJV translations are questionable. The first is inaccurate: εἰσιν [eisin] is 3rd-person plural of ειμι [eimi] , I am, which should be rendered, they are. The second: also, is not the best rendering of καὶ [kai] here in that it implies the seven kings are an additional subject. These translations give the incorrect impression that the kings are different from the heads and mountains upon which the woman sits. When describing the ten horns a few verses later, a similar phrase occurs: δέκα βασιλεῖς εἰσιν [deka basileis eisin] : ten kings they are (Rev. Rev. 17:12+). There, the KJV and NKJV translate the phrase correctly, without substituting there for they as is done here. We need not conjecture upon the significance of the seven mountains for the angel has pierced this aspect of the mystery for us:
This at once disposes of the popular interpretation which regards these seven mountains as referring to the seven hills on which the city of Rome was built. The Holy Spirit expressly tells us that the seven mountains are (represent) seven kings.2
The punctuation of the AV. in this verse is very faulty. Verse 9 should end with the word wisdom, and the remainder of the verse should form part of the tenth verse. The explanation of the angel would not then have been cut in two, and interpreted separately as is commonly the case; and the seven mountains would not have been treated independently of the clause which goes on to further explain what they signify. The seven mountains are, according to this, seven kings. It does not say that there are seven kings over and above, and beside the seven mountains; but that the seven mountains are (i.e., represent) seven kings. . . . These mountains, then, are no mere heaps of earth or rocks, but kings. . . . For interpreters to take these literally as mountains, in the midst of a context which the same interpreters take to be symbolic; and in the face of the interpretation actually given by the angel that they are seven kings, is to play fast and loose with the word of prophecy.3Rather than identifying these seven kings (which are seven heads) with seven historic kingdoms, some aspire to find fulfillment of Johns vision in the events of first-century Rome. Most frequently, preterist interpreters attempt to pick kings in such a way that Nero can be said to fulfill the predictions concerning The Beast. In doing so, they overlook inconsistencies in counting kings:
To be sure there have been many attempts to fit the date of Revelation . . . into the emperor lists of the first century. . . . But immediately there are admitted problems. Where do we beginwith Julius Caesar or Caesar Augustus? Are we to exclude Galba, Otho, and Vitellius who had short, rival reigns? If so, how can they be excluded except on a completely arbitrary basis? A careful examination of the historic materials yields no satisfactory solution. If Revelation were written under Nero, there would be too few emperors; if under Domitian, too many. The original readers would have had no more information on these emperor successions than we do, and possibly even less. How many Americans can immediately name the last seven presidents? Furthermore, how could the eighth emperor who is identified as the beast also be one of the seven (Rev. Rev. 17:11+)?4For a more in-depth discussion of the problems of correlating these kings with early Rome, see Beale.5
five have fallen
Fallen is ἔπεσαν [epesan] , Jdg. 3:25. Jdg. 5:27. 2S. 2S. 1:19, 2S. 1:25. Isa. Isa. 21:9. Jer. Jer. 50:15. Jer. 51:8. Eze. Eze. 29:5. Eze. 30:6.6 The angel is no longer discussing the Beast (who was, is, and is to come) and is now describing the seven heads which are seven mountains and seven kings. Most futurist interpreters take these to be five world empires of greatest significance to Israel in the plan of God. These are five which fell before the time of John. See #5 - Five Fallen Kings. Johnson complains of the seemingly arbitrary nature of the futurist identification of kingdoms:
Seiss (followed recently by Ladd and Walvoord) has suggested an interpretation that takes the five-one-one to refer to successive world kingdoms that have oppressed the people of God: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece (five fallen), Rome (one is), and a future world kingdom. While this solves some of the emperor succession problems and fits nicely, it too must admit arbitrary omissions, such as the devastating persecution of the people of God under the Seleucids of Syria, especially Antiochus IV, Epiphanes.7However, it is not the futurist who is arbitrarily neglecting the Seleucids, but the night vision of Daniel (Dan. Dan. 7:1) which guides the identification of these kingdoms. Daniels four beasts are widely held to be Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Since the initial stage of the fourth beast, Rome, is already underway (one is, see below) at the time of John, this provides identification of the previous three: Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. It is apparent that the Seleucid empirean outgrowth of the disintegration of the Greek empire under Alexander, is largely subsumed into the third leopard beast . Although it is probably recognized in the four heads on the leopard beast (Dan. Dan. 7:6) and the four notable horns on the he-goat in another of Daniels visions (Dan. Dan. 8:8), it is not given the same prominence as the other kingdoms. This is not an arbitrary decision by the futurist, but the plan and purpose of the Holy Spirit Who provided Daniel with the visions. Since only three of Daniels four kingdoms have fallen by the time of John, another two kingdoms must be found to form a total of five. The only arbitrariness attributable to the futurist is in the identification of these previous two kingdoms: whether they be Egypt and Assyria or extend further back to include Babel. It is our view that the historic scope of the seven-headed beast ridden by the Harlot and her identification with Babylon points in the direction of Babel as the first kingdom. But there is still the problem of knowing whether to include Egypt or Assyria as the second. If the issue is to be decided by volume of passages pertaining to either kingdom, it would seem that Egypt would garner the most votes resulting in the five fallen kingdoms of: Babel, Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.
Although five kings (mountains representing their kingdoms) have fallen by the time of John, one is currently reigning. This would seem most naturally to be Romethe initial stage of Daniels terrible beast. Preterists who desire to find fulfillment in Nero attempt to make him the king which is, but they can only do so by ignoring inconsistencies in the line up of kings:
[Gentrys] conclusion that Nero is the sixth or the one [who] is also faces serious obstacles. The greatest obstacle is his need to begin counting kings with Julius Caesar. He tries to defend this by citing several ancient sources, but the fact is that Rome was a Republic, ruled by the First Triumvirate, in the days of Julius Caesar and became a Principate under Augustus and the emperors that followed him. Neither does Gentry attempt to explain the thirteen-year gap between Julius Caesars death and the beginning of Augustus reign. They were not consecutive rulers as he makes them out to be.8and the other has not yet come
This is the kingdom which follows upon Rome in Johns day. Here we enter upon a conundrum with at least two aspects:
- Daniels Night Vision - The fall of Rome after Johns day did not fulfill the prediction of the rapid and dramatic destruction of the terrible beast which Daniel saw in his night vision (Dan. Dan. 7:1). Nor did its fall usher in the Messianic Kingdom as the vision predicted. Therefore, the fall of Rome after Johns time does not fulfill aspects of Daniels night vision which remain yet future.
- Nebuchadnezzars Dream - The fall of Rome after Johns day is depicted by the image of Nebuchadnezzars dream concerning the feet and toes, partly of potters clay and partly of iron (Dan. Dan. 2:41) which speak of a period of division and lack of cohesiveness prior to the Messianic Kingdom (Dan. Dan. 2:44). The break up of Rome and subsequent history of the westernized nations has more similarity to Nebuchadnezzars dream.
and when he comes, he must continue a short time
Grammatically, he refers to the seventh head-mountain-king which represents the seventh kingdom. The reign of the last kingdom is said to be relatively short. A few verses later, we are told that the ten horns, all on the last head , receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast (Rev. Rev. 17:12+ cf. Dan. Dan. 7:24). So the primary reference is to the duration of the last kingdom prior to the rise of the beast whos rise eventually eclipses the seventh kingdom. The seventh kingdom is connected with the beast that was who is counted as an eighth king, but also said to be of the sevenhe is the historic culmination of all the previous heads and his political origin is out of the seventh kingdom. We also know that his reign will be short-lived. The angel tells John that the Beast to arise in the future (Rev. Rev. 13:1+) will have a relatively short (and terrible) reign. He is prominent for only a very short time on the stage of world historyfor at least seven years. He becomes prominent sometime before The 70th Week of Daniel so that he is a key participant in the covenant with Israel which initiates the final seven years. Thereafter, he only rules for another seven years during which only the last half he prevails over the saints (Rev. Rev. 13:5+). In historical terms, this is indeed a short time. Unlike the initial phase of Rome, when his reign ends it will usher in the Messianic Kingdom on earth. See Events of the 70th Week of Daniel.
1 The NU text associates this phrase with the end of the previous verse.
5 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 21-24.