Babylon Rides the Beast

Babylon, the “Great Harlot,” rides the Beast from the Sea, with its seven heads and ten horns – Revelation 17:7-13.

Photo by Slava on Unsplash
The “beast” on which the “Great Harlot” sits is the same malignant monster that John saw “ascending from the sea,” an amalgamation of the four “beasts from the sea” in the Book of Daniel. Now, we are presented with the “lineage” of the “beast” and its final destruction, described with language from Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and its “little horn” - [Photo by Slava on Unsplash].

The final incarnation of the “beast” has evolved from a long history of beastly political powers, the imperial entity that transcends human history - (Daniel 7:1-8, 15-26Revelation 13:1-3).
  • (Revelation 17:7-8) – “And the angel said to me: Why were you astonished? 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. The beast which you saw was and is not, and is going to ascend from the abyss, and into destruction it goes. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose name is not written upon the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be astonished when they see the beast, because it was and is not, and will be present.”
Astonished” translates the Greek verb thaumazō, meaning “wonder, marvel; to be astonished.” Perhaps John was overwhelmed by the bejeweled splendor of the “Harlot”; but here, the term echoes the reaction of Daniel to his vision of the “fourth beast,” and to his vision the “king of fierce countenance” from one of the four Greek kingdoms:
  • (Daniel 7:28) – “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much alarmed me, and my countenance was changed in me.
  • (Daniel 8:27) – “And I, Daniel, fainted, and was sick certain days; then I rose up, and did the king’s business: and I was astonished [thaumazō - Septuagint] at the vision, but none understood it.”
This understanding is confirmed by angel’s reaction to John’s astonishment: “I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her.” Likewise, Daniel was troubled by his visions, not simply by their content, but because he did not understand their significance. Unlike Daniel, the vision’s meaning was revealed to John.

The mystery” of “Babylon the Great” revealed by the angel is the mystery of the Harlot AND of the “beast on which she sits.” The activities and fates of the two are inextricably linked.

The “beast seven heads and the ten horns.” It is the same “beast” John saw previously “ascending from the sea.” But here, it is described as the beast that “was and is not and is going to ascend out of the Abyss,” which recalls the “head” of the “beast” that received the deathblow but was “healed.”

Just as the “inhabitants of the earth wondered after the beast” when its wound was healed, so, now, they “wonder because it was and is not and will be present.” The description of it being “not” but then “present” alludes to Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and its predicted fate:
  • (Daniel 7:11-12) – “I beheld even till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. And as for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”
The description also parodies the declaration that God is the one “who is and who was and is coming.” The “beast” claims divine prerogatives; however, unlike the “coming” of God that produced victory, the “arrival of the “beast” means its eventual destruction - (Revelation 1:4, 11:15-19).

Will be present.” The term rendered “present” is pareimi, “to arrive; to be present,” and is related to the noun ‘parousia,’ often used in the New Testament for the future “arrival” of Jesus. Here, the “arrival” of the “beast” is compared to that of Jesus. One ends in glory, the other, in destruction - (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).

The inhabitants of the earth whose name is not written upon the book of life.” Since they “rendered homage” to the “beast” and took its “mark,” they are excluded from the “book of life.”
  • (Revelation 17:9-13) – “Here is the mind that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, upon which the woman sits; and they are seven kings: the five have fallen, the one is, the other has not yet come; and, whenever he comes, a little while must he remain, and the beast that was and is not. And he is an eighth, and is of the seven, and into destruction it goes. And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who, indeed, have not received sovereignty as of yet, but will receive authority as kings for one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and their power and authority they give to the beast.”
The mind that has wisdom.” The clause parallels the earlier call to understand the “number of the beast,” and it echoes the prediction given by the angel to Daniel at the end of his final vision - (Revelation 13:18):

  • (Daniel 12:10) – “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.”

The seven heads are seven mountains.” Next, the angel provides the interpretation. The “seven heads” represent “mountains,” which, in turn, represent “seven kings” or kingdoms. From John’s perspective, five have fallen already (“five have fallen”), one is a present reality (“one is”), and the seventh is yet to arrive - (“the other will arrive”).

Five have fallen.” Five kingdoms were in the past when John received his vision. One is,” which refers to the kingdom in power at John’s time, which could only be Rome. Thus, the “beast” is a transhistorical reality, just as the single “beast from the sea” included the characteristics from all four of Daniel’s “beasts from the sea” - (Revelation 13:1).


The last “kingdom” had not yet “come,” but when it does, it will remain for “a little while.” This translates the Greek term oligos, the same one used when the Devil was expelled to the earth for a “short time.” Likewise, at the start of the “thousand-years,” the Devil was bound until he was released for “a little while.” The same “short” period is in view here. The arrival of this final incarnation of the “beast” will coincide with Satan’s release from the “Abyss” - (Revelation 12:12, 20:3).


The final kingdom “was and is not,” which is the same reality represented by the “head” that received the “death-stroke that was healed.” The last “kingdom” is one of the “seven,” but is also an “eighth.” That is, the final “beast” is from the same series as its predecessors, but it will also be something beyond them - (Revelation 16:16).


The “ten horns are ten kings” that do not receive their sovereignty until the “hour of trial” that will befall the “whole habitable earth.” They will give their allegiance to the “beast.” They are identical with the “kings of the earth” that ally themselves with the “beast,” and likewise, subjugate themselves to the “Great Harlot.” The number “ten” represents an entire series. As we will see, all the “kings of the earth” will join the “beast” in its final onslaught against the “Lamb” and his “saints.”


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