Babylon, the “Great Harlot,” rides the Beast from the Sea with its seven heads and ten horns – Revelation 17:7-13.
“Babylon” sits on the same malignant creature seen earlier “ascending from the sea.” It was an amalgamation of the four “beasts from the sea” from Daniel. Now, we discover the “lineage” of the “beast” and preview its destruction, all described with language from Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and its “little horn.”
The beast’s final incarnation has evolved over a long history of beastly political powers, it is an imperial entity that transcends human history, and one that began with the Tower of Babel “in the land of Shinar” – (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 7:1-8, 15-26, Revelation 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 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 the 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.
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 with seven heads and ten horns.” It is the same “beast” seen previously “ascending from the sea,” but now, it is described as the creature that “was and is not and is going to ascend from the Abyss.” This recalls the “head” of the “beast” that received the death blow but was “healed” in chapter 13.
Just as the “inhabitants of the earth wondered after the beast” when its wound was healed, 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 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” will result in its destruction – (Revelation 1:4, 11:15-19).
“Will be present.” The term rendered “present” is pareimi, “to arrive; to be present,” and it is related to the noun ‘parousia,’ which is used often 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, and 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,” 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 recalls the prediction given 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 had “fallen,” one was a present reality, and the seventh was yet to arrive.
Five of these kingdoms were in the past when John received his vision. The one that existed in his day could only be Rome. Thus, the “beast” is a transhistorical reality, just as the single “beast from the sea” included the animal characteristics of all four of Daniel’s “beasts from the sea” – (Revelation 13:1).
The last “kingdom” had not yet “come,” at least, not by John’s time. When it does arrive, 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 end of the “thousand years,” the Devil was released from the “Abyss” for “a little while.” The same “short” period is in view in all three passages. Thus, the arrival of the beast’s final incarnation will coincide with Satan’s release from the “Abyss” – (Revelation 12:12, 20:3).
The final kingdom “was and is not.” This describes the same reality represented by the beast’s “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 lineage as its predecessors, but it will also be something beyond them – (Revelation 16:16).
The “ten horns are ten kings.” They will not receive their sovereignty until the “hour of trial” that is to 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 “Babylon.” In Revelation, the number “ten” represents an entire series. As we will see, all the “kings of the earth” along with the nations from the “four corners of the earth” will join the “beast” in its final assault against the “Lamb” and his “saints.”