Great Harlot Rides the Beast

SYNOPSIS:  Babylon rides the Beast from the Sea with its seven heads and ten horns – Revelation 17:7-13.

Roman ruins - Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash
This next passage describes the Beast on which the Great Harlot Babylon sits. It is the same malignant being John saw previously ascending from the sea, an unnatural amalgamation of all four of the “wild beasts” from Daniel’s vision of animal-like creatures ascending one after the other out of a chaotic sea. Now, the book of Revelation presents the “lineage” of the “Beast from the sea” and its destined overthrow by using imagery from the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision about the “little horn.”

The last appearance of the Beast comes from a long history of beastly political powers, a creature that has transcended human history, although this latest incarnation will be the last of the line (Daniel 7:1-8, 15-26Revelation 13:1-3).

  • (Revelation 17:7-13) – “And the messenger said unto me — Wherefore wast thou astonished? I will tell thee the secret of the woman, and of the wild-beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The wild-beast which thou sawest, was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss, and into destruction goeth away. And they who are dwelling upon 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 wild-beast, because it was, and is not, and shall be present. Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, whereupon the woman sitteth; and they are seven kings: the five have fallen, the one is, the other hath not yet come; and, whensoever he shall come, a little while must he remain, and the wild-beast which was and is not. And he is an eighth, and is of the seven, — and into destruction goeth away. And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, — who, indeed, have not received sovereignty as yet, but authority as kings for one hour shall receive, with the wild-beast. These have one mind, and their power and authority unto the wild-beast they give.” [Source:  The Emphasized Bible]. 

Wherefore were you astonished?” “Astonished” translates the Greek verb thaumazō, meaning, “to wonder, marvel, be astonished.” It can refer to astonishment caused by a negative or a positive reaction to something. Perhaps John was overwhelmed by the bejeweled appearance of the Harlot, nevertheless, the term echoes the reaction of the prophet Daniel to his vision of the fourth beast with its “little horn,” and the vision concerning the rise of a malevolent king from among the several Greek kingdoms (Daniel 7:15-27, 8:14-27). Note the following parallels:

  • (Daniel 7:15) – “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was grieved in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head alarmed me.”(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: but I kept the matter in my heart.”
  • (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 the reaction of the angel 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 meaning of his vision is revealed to John by the angel.

The mystery.” The angel had just referred to the name written on the woman’s forehead - “Mystery, Babylon the Great” (verse 5). That “mystery” or “secret” is now revealed, but it is the mystery of the Harlot AND the Beast on which she sits. The activities and the fates of the two are inextricably linked.

This Beast has “seven heads and the ten horns.” It is the same “beast” John saw ascending from the sea. Likewise, the “fourth beast” of Daniel had ten horns, although nothing was said of its having “seven heads” (Daniel 7:7-8, Revelation 13:1).


The Beast “was and is not and is going to ascend out of the Abyss.” This recalls one of the heads of the “Beast from the sea” that received a deathblow - “And his death-stroke was healed.”  Just as the “inhabitants of the earth wondered [thaumazō] after the beast” when his wound was healed, so the “inhabitants of the earth will wonder [thaumazō]” at the Beast, “because it was and is not, and shall be present” (Revelation 13:3-4).


This last description alludes to Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast, and to 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 ascent of the Beast from the “Abyss” was described earlier when the Two Witnesses finished their testimony.” At that time, the beast that “ascends out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.” The phrase, “make war with them and overcome them” echoes the interpretation of Daniel’s vision in which the “little horn” made war with the “saints and prevail over them,” a verse also alluded to when the “Beast from the sea” was authorized “to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Daniel 7:21, Revelation 11:7, 12:17, 13:7).


Was and is not and will be present” parodies the declared attribution of God, the one “who is and who was, and is coming.” The “Beast” lays claim to divine prerogatives; however, unlike the “coming” of God that produces absolute victory, the “arrival” or parousia of the “Beast” means its ultimate destruction (Revelation 1:4, 11:15-19).


Shall be present.” The Greek verb rendered “present” is pareimi - “To arrive; to be present.” It is related to the noun Parousia often used for the “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the age (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).


Very probably, the use of pareimi compares the Beast’s “arrival” to that of Jesus, although neither the verb nor the noun form is applied to the coming of Jesus in the book of Revelation. However, the Apostle Paul did use parousia for both the “arrival” of Jesus and of the “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).


Egyptian Sphinx - by Kévin et Laurianne Langlais on Unsplash
Egyptian Sphinx

The inhabitants of the earth whose name is not written upon the book of life.” The clause identifies this group with the “inhabitants of the earth” that rendered homage to the “Beast from the sea” and its image, those “whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The identification also means the men and women who comprise this group are destined for the “Lake of fire” at the Great White Throne of Judgment (Daniel 12:1Revelation 13:2, 20:15).

Here is the mind that hath wisdom.” This phrase parallels the call to understand the number of the beast, as well as the prediction by an angel to Daniel at the end of his final vision:

  • (Revelation 13:18) – “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”
  • (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.” The angel now provides the interpretation. The “seven heads” are not literal “heads” but represent “mountains.” In turn, the “mountains” represent “seven kings” or kingdoms. From the perspective of John in the first century, five of the seven kingdoms had fallen already in the past (“five have fallen”), one was a present reality (“one is”), and the seventh was yet to arrive on the scene in the future (“the other will arrive”).


The book of Revelation is adapting details from the vision of Daniel concerning “four beasts from the sea” in which the fourth beast had “ten horns.” That vision did not mention “seven heads”; however, the third beast “like a leopard” had four heads. Combined with the “heads” of the other three beasts makes a total of seven heads, which spanned all four of the “beastly” kingdoms seen by Daniel ascending from the sea (Daniel 7:1-8).


Five have fallen.” Five of the “kings” or “kingdoms” were already in the past when John received this vision. Numbers in Revelation are generally figurative. Even if this number is literal, attempting to identify the five “fallen” kingdoms is not particularly relevant to the message of Revelation (e.g., Perhaps, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece; or, Assyria, Babylon, the Medes, Persia and Greece). The point is that the “Beast” is a transhistorical reality, just as the single “Beast from the sea” included the characteristics from all four of Daniel’s beasts (Revelation 13:1).


One is.” The term points to a king or kingdom in power in John’s day. This can only refer to Rome, the imperial power that was oppressing the seven churches of Asia, and most likely, had exiled John to the isle of Patmos


The last “king” had not yet “come” by the time John saw this vision. However, when he does arrive, he will remain for “a little while.” This translates the Greek term oligos, the same one used when the Devil was expelled to the earth, “having great wrath because he knows that he has but a short time.” Likewise, at the start of the “thousand years,” the Devil was bound in the Abyss until he was released for “a little while.” In other words, the same period is in view – The arrival of this final “king” coincides with Satan’s release from the “Abyss” (Revelation 12:12, 20:3).


The final Beast “was and is not.” This points to the same reality as the “head” of the “Beast from the sea” that received a “death-stroke that was healed,” which caused the world to “wonder” after it. It is one of the “seven” but is also an “eighth”; that is, the final version of the “Beast” is from the same series and of the same nature as its preceding incarnations, but this one is also something new and beyond what preceded it.


This is a verse used by some commentators to conclude the final “beast” system will be a reconstituted Roman Empire since the seventh-eighth “king” arises after the one in John’s time. This is plausible. However, identifying it as Rome may go beyond the evidence. The “five kings” who preceded it were not Roman. Suffice it to say, the final kingdom will include all the worst elements of its predecessors, including those of the Roman Empire.


However horrible this final kingdom will be, in the end, it is doomed for destruction. This is conceptually parallel to the kings of the earth who are gathered to “Armageddon” in the sixth bowl of wrath in order to be destroyed; likewise, the “Beast” and its allies destroyed by the Rider on a white horse, as well as the army of “Gog and Magog” consumed by fire from heaven (Revelation 16:16, 19:17-21, 20:8-10).


The “ten horns are ten kings.” The same formula is found in the vision of Daniel where the “ten horns” of the fourth beast are identified as “ten kings” who do not receive authority to reign until a specific “hour” - The same “hour of trial” that is to fall upon the “whole habitable earth” (Daniel 7:24Revelation 3:109:15, 11:13, 18:10-19).


The “ten kings” give their allegiance to the Beast. The group is identical with the “kings of the earth” that ally with the “Beast” and subjugate themselves to the “Great Harlot.” The group is also identical to the “kings from the east.” However, regardless of their plans, this company is destroyed by the “Rider on a White Horse” in the final “battle” (Revelation 6:15, 16:12-16, 17:2, 17:18, 18:9, 19:17-21).


Elsewhere in Revelation, the number “ten” is used with the sense of a complete or full series, such as, the “ten days of tribulation,” “ten thousand times ten thousand” voices praising the Lamb, and “ten thousand times ten thousand” horsemen of the army unleashed from the “Abyss” by the sounding of the sixth trumpet (Revelation 2:10, 5:11, 9:16).


It must be borne in mind that the book of Revelation is not explaining Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” or ignoring the historical fulfillment of it. Instead, Revelation uses the language and imagery from Daniel to construct its own portrait of the final Beast system that is to arise before the end of the age, although it is most definitely related to the earlier vision of Daniel.

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