Read Revelation 17 at Bible Gateway.
Previously: revelation 17, mystery babylon the great
Mystery Babylon the Great is riding a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. This scarlet beast has already been introduced:
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. Rev 12:3
The woman, the great city of Babylon, rides the fiery red dragon, who is the Devil and Satan. In other words, her ideology and her power is from him: he carries her.
But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? 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 that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Rev 17:7-8
The scarlet beast, we already postulated, was the Devil and Satan. The angel says of him, that he was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. Now, the timeline of the vision is that the seven bowls of wrath have already been poured out in chapter 16 and Babylon has already fallen (Rev 14:8, 16:19). The angel is backtracking again in order to clarify things for John and to reveal details about the broader events that have occurred.
That the scarlet beast was, is that the woman rode him and all the nations drank the wine of her fornication, from the Tower of Babel onward. That he is not, is that when the Lord returns to rule and reign, the point at which John was in the vision, at the completion of the bowls, when one of the angels took him aside to go on this bunny trail, he is locked up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3), specifically, it says, so that he should not deceive the nations. That he will be, when he ascends out of the bottomless pit, and goes to perdition, is that when he is released from prison, he will deceive the nations again, and be defeated, and be thrown into the lake of fire forever and ever — which, we assume, is perdition (Rev 20:7-10).
How he succeeds in deceiving the nations again, we assume, is that when those of the nations, whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, see him again, when he is released, they will marvel at him, that he was, and was not, and yet is again.
“Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.” Rev 17:9-11
The seven heads are seven mountains. We saw that a mountain in Revelation was a kingdom or seat of authority. If our theory is true, and the seven heads and ten horns are meant to connect this passage thematically to Daniel’s vision of four beasts, which also have seven heads and ten horns among them, then the seven mountains or kingdoms are: Babylon, Persia, the four Greek kingdoms founded by Alexander the Great, and Rome.
But then the angel reveals that the seven heads are also seven kings, with this further clarifying detail: five have fallen, one is, and one is not yet come. The beast itself is an eighth king, of the seven, so perhaps, in the same manner as the seven, from the same root as the seven, and is going to perdition.
Traditionally, the church has understood these seven kings to the seven forms of government that the Roman beast has traversed. The Roman historians Livy and Tacitus, who lived and wrote in the first century, the same time period in which John lived, in fact listed six forms of government that Rome had passed through from its inception:
Council of Ten
At the time John saw the vision, he was living during the Roman beast governed by emperors, or Caesars. The imperial form was established by Caesar Augustus in 30 bc. Thus five heads had already fallen, and one was. The early church, knowing the history of Rome, immediately understood this meaning of the symbols and were agreed without question that the Roman beast was an incarnation of this great beast who derived its power and authority from the devil.
The other that has not yet come, we learn from history, was the Exarchate of Ravenna, which ruled on behalf of Constantinople, more or less, after the fall of Rome by barbarian invasions in 476 ad. Exarchates were a system of territorial governments established by the emperor of the East in Constantinople when Rome lost its wars with the German barbarians, and the German Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor. The Exarchate of Ravenna lasted until 756 ad when the Franks drove out the Germans and gave the conquered territory to the pope to rule. This was the beginning of the pope’s political and temporal power. This is when he gained the Papal states.
So we see that the beast that was and is not, i.e., the Roman beast, in its incarnation as the Roman church, is himself the eighth head or form of government, who is of the seven, i.e. he wielded political and governmental power, commanded troops, levied taxes, passed laws, and exercised all the works of a political and temporal power. This beast who looks like the Lamb but who speaks the words of the dragon, is going to perdition. He still reigns, even though it is only over the 100 square acres of Vatican City. He still wields political and temporal power today.
Continued in revelation 17, ten horns of the beast