Babylon Rides the Beast

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

Rome Central - Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash
he “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” ascending from a chaotic sea in Daniel. Now, we are presented with the “lineage” of the “beast” and its final destruction, using language from Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and its “little horn.” - [Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash].

The final incarnation of the “beast” is from a long history of beastly political powers, the imperial entity that has transcended 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 appearance of the “Great Harlot”; nevertheless, here, the term echoes the reaction of Daniel to his vision of the fourth beast with its “little horn,” and to his vision concerning the rise of a malevolent king from one of four Greek kingdoms:
  • (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.
  • (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 is confirmed by the reaction of the angel to John’s astonishment at the sight of the “Great Whore”: “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 was revealed to John by the angel.
The mystery” of “Babylon the Great” that was revealed is the mystery of the Harlot AND of the “beast on which she sits.” The activities and fates of the two are inextricably linked.

This Beast had “seven heads and the ten horns”; it was - the same “beast” John saw previously “ascending from the sea.” It “was and is not and is going to ascend out of the Abyss.”

The description recalls the “head” of the “beast” that received the deathblow that was “healed.”  Just as the “inhabitants of the earth wondered after the beast” when its wound was healed, so they “wonder because it was and is not and will be present.” This 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.”
Was and is not and will be present.” This parodies the description of God as the one “who is and who was and is coming.” The “beast” laid claim to the divine prerogatives; however, unlike the “coming” of God that produced total victory, the “arrival of the “beast” meant 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 used so often in the New Testament for the “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the age. 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.” This is the same group that “rendered homage” to the “beast from the sea” and took its “mark”; therefore, 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 phrase parallels the 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) – “Here is wisdom. Let him that has 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.” Next, the angel provided the interpretation of the vision. The “seven heads” represent “mountains,” which, in turn, represent “seven kings” or kingdoms. From John’s perspective, five had fallen already (“five have fallen”), one was a present reality (“one is”), and the seventh was yet to arrive - (“the other will arrive”).

Seven Hills - Photo by Z S on Unsplash
Seven Hills - Photo by Z S on Unsplash

 has adapted details from Daniel’s vision of the “four beasts from the sea,” which did not mention “seven heads”; however, the third beast “like a leopard” had four heads, and, when combined with the “heads” of the other three “beasts,” the total becomes seven “heads” that spanned all four of these kingdoms - (Daniel 7:1-8).

Five have fallen.” Five of them were already in the past when John received his vision. The identities of the five “fallen” realms is not relevant to the vision. But 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.” This points to a political power existing at John’s time. It could only refer to the Roman Empire that was oppressing the seven churches of Asia, and most likely, had exiled John to the isle of Patmos.

The last “kingdom” had not yet “come.” However, 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, “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.” The same period is in view in each respective passage; the arrival of this final entity coincides with Satan’s release from the “Abyss” - (Revelation 12:12, 20:3).

The final Beast “was and is not,” the same reality represented by the “head” of the “beast” that received the “death-stroke that was healed.” The last “king” 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 predecessors, but the last version is also something beyond them, and it will include all the worst elements of the previous six.

But the final kingdom is doomed to destruction. This is conceptually parallel to the “kings of the earth” who were gathered to the place called “Armageddon” to be destroyed. Likewise, the “beast” and its allies that were destroyed by the “Rider on a white horse,” as well as the army of “Gog and Magog” consumed by fire at the end of the “thousand-years” - (Revelation 16:16, 19:17-21, 20:8-10).

The “ten horns are ten kings.” The same formula was used in the vision of Daniel, when the “ten horns” of the “fourth beast” were identified as “ten kings.” Here, they are rulers who did not receive their sovereignty until the “hour of trial” that falls on the “whole habitable earth” - (Daniel 7:24Revelation 3:109:15, 11:13, 18:10-19).

The “ten kings” give their allegiance to the “beast.” They are identical with the “kings of the earth” that ally with the “beast” and subjugate themselves to the “Great Harlot” - (Revelation 6:15, 16:12-16, 17:2, 17:18, 18:9, 19:17-21).

Elsewhere, “ten” symbolizes a complete or full series, such as the “ten days of tribulation,” the “ten thousand times ten thousand” voices praising the “Lamb,” and the “ten thousand times ten thousand” horsemen unleashed from the “Abyss” by the “sixth trumpet” blast - (Revelation 2:10, 5:11, 9:16).

The Book of Revelation is not explaining Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” or ignoring its historical fulfillment. Instead, it uses language and imagery from Daniel to construct its own portrait of the final “beast” that will arise before the end of the age, although it is related to the earlier vision of Daniel, especially to its “fourth beast” with the “little horn speaking great things.”


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