Revelation 17 is an important chapter in the study of the Antichrist. It 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. In this article, I wish to discuss the relationship of Revelation 17 to the Antichrist. Does this chapter give us any hint as to where he will come from? Let’s take a look.
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 which are 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. Firstly, it could be asked which emperor we are to begin the sequence 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 where 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 would 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 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 then 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. 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 prophecies in Revelation.
Are the Heads kingdoms?
This leads us to a second 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 often 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 seven heads had a fatal wound, but it had been healed. The idea of a resurrected Antichrist comes from the belief that the heads are individuals instead of kingdoms and empires. Instead, it is the head that is healed should be interpreted as one of the seven kingdoms being revived. The beast, the eighth king, will be a revived empire. But which of the seven heads had the fatal wound? Revelation 17 does not say directly.
However, there is a way to know which head is the first phase of the empire of the Antichrist. As I noted in our study of Daniel 2, the kingdom of the Antichrist will come after the Greek Empire, the fifth kingdom of Revelation 17. This means that the head with the fatal wound must be the sixth or seventh heads.
Whether it is the sixth head (Rome) or the seventh head depends on which Antichrist model you ascribe to. If one believes in a Roman Antichrist, then either head could be the correct one. This is because the seventh head is often believed to have some kind of connection to Rome in the form of the Byzantine Empire, Nazi Germany, the British, the United States, or some other nation European country. Even the European Union has been suggested for the seventh head.
If one ascribes to the Middle Eastern Antichrist model, which is not impossible according to Daniel 2 and Ezekiel 38-39, then the seventh head must be the revived kingdom. This fits well with the Islamic Caliphate which came into existence after Rome (see here for more on the seven heads as the Islamic Caliphate and the meaning of “a little while” in 17:9).
The point so far in this article is that the kingdom view is the best explanation of the seven heads of the beast. It is also consistent with both the Roman and Middle Eastern models of the Antichrist. The seven heads (and the eighth king) would thus represent the following empires:
- Islamic Caliphate or a European empire/Union (depending on which model you choose)
- Revived Islamic Caliphate or Roman Empire
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 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 speak of one empire between Rome and the Antichrist. 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), the seventh empire, and the revived seventh empire (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 seventh/eighth kingdoms, and ignore the first two? There is a very plausible answer to this. 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).
This explanation fits better with the Middle Eastern model rather than the Roman one since 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 the 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 or another “Roman” kingdom|
|Feet and toes of iron and clay||Ten Horns||Healed 7th head (the eighth king)||Antichrist/Revived Islamic or Roman 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 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. I do believe that this interpretation is valid, but so is the view taught here. The possibility of symbolism is not, in my opinion, strong enough given everything we know from other passages.
Revelation 17:9-11 is an interesting place in Scripture. It is consistent with both the Roman and Islamic models of the Antichrist but brings out some difficulties for preterist and other models.
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[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.
 Ibid, 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 (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.