[The other articles in this series can be found here.]
The belief in an Islamic Antichrist is confusing or just insane to some people. But as I have shown throughout this series, numerous Scriptures are consistent with a Middle Eastern origin of the end-time dictator. In this article, I will continue with our study of the Antichrist with a look at the seventeenth chapter of Revelation.
Revelation 17 describes a woman who rides the beast, the same beast of Revelation 13. In verses 9-11, the chapter gives us details about the seven heads, the same heads that make their first appearance in chapter thirteen, and it is only here that we are given any information as to exactly what they are. Revelation 17:9-11 says,
9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.”
There have been three major ways of interpreting the seven heads of the beast. First, the seven heads, also called seven mountains and seven kings, represent Roman emperors. Second, the seven heads are seven kingdoms throughout world history. Third, and lastly, the seven heads are symbolic for every evil government that has existed.
Are the seven heads Roman Emperors?
One of the most popular beliefs about the identification of the seven heads is that they are symbolic for seven Roman emperors. There are a few different reasons why this interpretation is accepted by many writers. First, many translate the “seven mountains” as “seven hills.” Since the city of Rome sat on seven hills, it is thought that the Roman Empire is in view. This is one of the main reasons why it is commonly believed that there will be a revived Roman Empire. Second, the heads/hills are also said to be kings in verse 10.
Determining which Roman Emperors are in view in verses 9-11 is a matter of debate. For example, which ruler should we begin with? Should we start with Julius Caesar or his nephew Augustus? (Both have been considered the first emperor of Rome.) Or perhaps we should begin with some other emperor (see the Table 1 below)?
Verse 10 says that the sixth head “is” and that two more kings are to come. The eighth king is the Antichrist. To add to this is the common belief that the eighth king, the Antichrist, is one of the seven heads (verse 11). This comes from the thinking that the Antichrist will be resurrected (this is true and false – see the details later in this article and another article that I wrote on this topic).
Exactly which five emperors have fallen, which one “is,” and which is to come has a lot to do with the dating of the book of Revelation. The most common view is that John wrote Revelation during the last part of the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD). This would make Dominican the king who “is.” However, some writers believe that John may have written shortly before 70 AD, most likely during the reign of Nero or one of the short reigned kings just after him (see Table 1 below).
Identifying Nero as the king who “is” is supported by some because of the belief in the ancient world that Nero didn’t die but fled to Parthia (Iran). Eventually he would return and rule again. Since the Antichrist will resurrect and Nero was going to return, then Nero must be the sixth (or another number) and eighth kings.
Another way to arrange the seven kings is the explanation by Tim Lahaye. He believes that the five kings who have fallen are emperors who lived up to the time of John (he doesn’t mention any names). The sixth is the emperor reigning during the time when Revelation was written – Domitian, and the seventh/eighth king is the Antichrist. Thus, the first six kings lived in the first century. The passage than fast forwards into the future for the seventh and eighth kings, who are the Antichrist before and after he resurrects.
|Table 1: Roman Emperors and Revelation 17|
|Emperor||Date of Reign||Possible Enumerations of Roman Emperors|
|Julius Caesar||49-44 BC||1||1|
|Augustus||27 BC – 14 AD||2||2||1||1|
Problems with the heads being Roman Emperors
Scholars have noticed some difficulties with the seven heads symbolizing Roman emperors. First, no matter what emperors are used, and no matter when Revelation was written, no Roman emperor could be the eighth king because Christ did not return during the first century. To add to this, Nero never came back and ruled Rome. If this was the intention of John then he was incorrect. This would mean that we cannot trust any of the prophecy in Revelation. Second, as I have shown throughout this series, numerous Scriptures point to a Middle Eastern origin for the Antichrist. This is a major blow to the Roman Antichrist theory because one of the major reasons for thinking that the seven heads are Roman emperors is the equation of the seven heads with the Seven Hills of Rome.
Are the Heads kingdoms?
This leads us to the third objection and the second major interpretation about the heads. The Greek word used here (oros) does not mean “hills” but “mountains.” Although the word can have the meaning of “hills” in Greek literature,  in biblical prophecy mountains are symbolic for kingdoms (Psalms 30:7; 68:15-16; Isaiah 2:2; 41:15; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35; Habakkuk 3:6, 10; Zechariah 4:17). The kings would then be personifications of those kingdoms.
The result is that the seven mountains do not represent Rome, but seven empires that emerge throughout human history. These verses say that by the lifetime of John five of them had fallen, one was in existence, and the seventh was still to come. The beast itself (the Antichrist) is an eighth king/kingdom. The sixth head, the one in existence during John’s time, was the Roman Empire. The first five are usually considered to be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece although slight alterations to this have been proposed.
Putting Daniel and Revelation together
This brings us to the identification of the seventh head. This requires us to look at the belief that the Antichrist will be resurrected. This originates from Revelation 13:3 where it is taught that one of the heads had a fatal wound but it had been healed. But, as I just showed, the heads/mountains represent kingdoms and empires, not necessarily an individual. This means that one of the seven kingdoms will be revived. The beast, the eighth king, will be a revived empire. But which of the seven heads had the fatal wound? Revelation does not say directly.
However, as I noted in our study of Daniel, the kingdom of the antichrist will come after the Greek Empire, the fifth kingdom of Rev. 17. This means that the head with the fatal wound must be the sixth or seventh heads. However, it has been showed throughout this series that the Roman Empire cannot be the beast. So this means that the seventh kingdom must be the kingdom from which the antichrist will come from.
The seventh head, the legs of iron of Daniel 2, and the fourth beast of Daniel 7 are the same kingdom. This empire must conquer the lands that made up the Babylonian Empire, Medo-Persian Empire, and the Greek Empire. As I have shown throughout this series, these empires ruled what are today the Middle East and parts of North Africa, Central and South Asia. Rome did not conquer most of these areas. The beast, legs of iron, and the seventh head all point to a Middle Eastern Kingdom as the origin of the antichrist, not a European or American one (see here for more on the seven heads as the Islamic Caliphate and the meaning of “a little while” in 17:9). The seven heads (and the eighth king) would thus represent the following empires:
- Islamic Caliphate
- Revived Islamic Caliphate
Problems with the kingdom view
Revelation 17 fits together very well with the books of Daniel and Ezekiel if the seven heads are interpreted as kingdoms instead of individuals. However, not all scholars agree with this. Some prefer to take the seven heads as a symbol for all evil governments throughout history. They come to this conclusion because of the symbolic nature of Revelation. Since numbers are often used as symbols, then the number seven could possibly be used for fullness and completeness in this passage. The king that “is” represents the current manifestation of evil government during John’s lifetime – Rome. The seventh to come is all future governments.
These same scholars have come up with some difficulties with the kingdom theory. The first, and the most common, is how do we account for all the other empires in world history (such as the British, Spanish, Mongolian, Japanese, Nazi Germany, etc.)? How do they fit in? Many of them persecuted Christians, so shouldn’t they be included?
Although I do understand this objection, I do think there is a possible explanation for why Revelation would only include the Islamic Caliphate and not include Japan, Germany, or any other empire. When we look at the first six kingdoms they all have the same thing in common: not only did they persecute God’s people, but each of them ruled over Jerusalem, God’s holy city. In the Bible, Jerusalem is the center of the world (not literally, but figuratively speaking). It is possible that Revelation is giving us the kingdoms of the world from the perspective of Jerusalem. Yes, there have been many evil empires throughout history, but it is very possible that Scripture is not giving us an exhaustive view of all kingdoms, but only those from the viewpoint of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, or at least from the Middle East (the historical-cultural context of the biblical writers).
A second objection, proposed by scholar Sam Storms, is that the kingdom theory omits the horrible persecution of the Jewish people by Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the Greek king of Syria? This objection does not make sense to me. Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews would be included in the Greek empire – the fifth head.
Third, the Greek word for “king” in Revelation 17:10 is never translated as “kingdom” in the New Testament. I answered this earlier. A king personifies and represents his kingdom. This objection also ignores how words can have different meanings in different contexts.
Fourth, the kingdoms in Daniel 2 and 7 are different from the ones in Revelation 17. Daniel 2 and 7 only mention five kingdoms: Babylon (3rd head), Medo-Persia (4th head), Greece (5th head), Islamic Caliphate (7th head), and the revived Islamic Caliphate (eighth king). They leave out the first two heads and the sixth – Rome (see Table 2 below).
Why does Daniel go from the Greek Empire to the Islamic Caliphate, and ignore the first two kingdoms? The answer to this is very simple. We must remember that the context of the book of Daniel is the Babylonian Empire. Daniel was living in the city of Babylon, very close to present-day Baghdad, Iraq. The statue of Daniel 2 and the beasts of Daniel 7 were given in a Babylonian context. The dream of a statue was given to Nebuchadnezzar, who was king of Babylon. The vision was giving a look into the future from his kingdom (thus ignoring the first two heads of Revelation 17 because they were in the past). The Roman Empire never conquered all the lands of the three kingdoms in Daniel 2 and 7. The next kingdom after Greece to conquer Babylonia (and Persia) was Islam, not Rome. (See my article on Daniel 2 for more information).
|Table 2 – The Kingdoms of the Beast|
|Daniel 2||Daniel 7||Revelation 17||Kingdoms|
|Not included||Not included||1st head||Egyptian|
|Not included||Not included||2nd head||Assyrian|
|Head of gold||Lion||3rd head||Babylonian|
|Chest and arms of silver||Bear||4th head||Medo-Persian|
|Belly and thighs of bronze||Leopard||5th head||Greek|
|Not included||Not included||6th head||Roman|
|Legs of Iron||Fourth Beast||7th head||Islamic|
|Feet and toes of iron and clay||Ten Horns||Healed 7th head (the eighth king)||Antichrist/Revived Islamic Empire|
Fifth, how can seven kingdoms belong to one beast and how can the beast be one of the seven? I believe there is a logical answer to this. According to Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:7) and John (1 John 2:18), the spirit of the Antichrist is already in the world, and there are already many antichrists. These seven kingdoms are manifestations of the Antichrist (the eighth king) before his arrival in the end-times. We must also note that in 17:11, Revelation tells us that the beast, the eighth king, belongs to the seven. However, the Greek word used for “seven” can also be translated “seventh.” This fits well with what we know from Daniel and Revelation that the kingdom of the Antichrist will be a revived empire from the past. The eighth king, the Antichrist, will be a revived version of the seventh kingdom.
The sixth objection concerns the number seven and its use in Revelation. Is the number seven in 17:9-11 to be taken literally or symbolically? Admittedly, numbers can/are used as symbols in Revelation. However, this does not mean that every single time a number is used it has to have the exact same meaning as somewhere else in Scripture (or in the same book). The immediate context should be allowed to tell us the meaning of a word or number. In Revelation 17, I believe that by allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture we come to the fact that the heads are kingdoms. The numbers given – five have fallen, one currently “is”, and the one still to come – best fits seven literal kingdoms, not every government that existed throughout history.
Revelation 17:9-11 is an interesting chapter. It is one of the main pillars in support of the Roman Antichrist theory. However, as this article showed, the chapter actually presents difficulties for the Antichrist arising out of Rome. Instead, it fits much better into a Middle Eastern origin of the man of lawlessness.
What do you think? Did this study change your view of the antichrist? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
[This is a revised and updated edition of an article originally published on April 16, 2013.]
 See for example Tim Lahaye. Revelation Revealed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999). 215-216, 262.
 Ibid. 215-216.
G. K. Beale. The Book of Revelation. The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999). 874.
 Beale, 868.
 Joel Richardson. Mideast Beast. (Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2012). 150. Joseph A. Seiss. The Apocalypse. Grand Rapids:Zondervan Publishing House, 1957. P. 391-394. Quoted in John F. Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1989. P. 251-254. Beale 868.
 See William Hendriksen. More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1940). 170-171 for example. Hendriksen believes that the first head was Old Babylonia under the rule of Nimrod (Genesis 10). He also thinks that the seventh head is a symbol for every evil government between Rome and the Antichrist. I disagree with this. Why would the first six heads, and the eighth, be real empires, but only the seventh symbolize many empires?
 Richardson, 151, 155-156. Walid Shoebat, with Joel Richardson. God’s War on Terror (Top Executive Media, 2008). 334.
 Beale 869, 871; Sam Storms. Kingdom Come (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2013). 509; Grant R. Osborne. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). 620; Robert H. Mounce The Book of Revelation. In The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997). 317; George R. Beasley-Murray. Revelation. In the “New Bible Commentary.” Ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 1447.
 Beale 875; Storms, 509; Osborne, 620.
 Storms, 509.
 Mounce, 317; Osborne, 620.
 Also see Beale, 868. Here he notes how “kings” and “kingdoms” are interchangeable (see Daniel 7:17, 23).
 Beale, 874.
 Beale, 875.
 Beale, 875.
 Beale (p. 875) gives us a seventh objection: “How could the sixth and seventh such historical empires survive the annihilation of the whore and mourn over her demise (18:9)?” Revelation 18:9 tells us “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her.” This is assuming that the kings mentioned in 18:9 are the same as those of the seven heads. It is also possible that the kings in 18:9 are all the general rulers on the earth during the tribulation. 17:16-17 tell us that the beast (the eighth king) and his allies (the ten kings) will hate the woman and will destroy her. It is clear that they will not mourn over her.