These words are a repetition of the first words of the verse, meaning that the beast has been conquered, is now invisible, but will rise up from the abyss for a final onslaught against the church.
On one other occasion, (Rev 13:18) Scripture called on our ability to reason, calling for a mind with wisdom. The angel proceeds to explain to John what his vision means. The seven heads are seven hills, which brings the seven hills on which Rome is founded to mind. It is this connection that points to this ancient world-city as the great prostitute and is also called Babylon.
I Peter 5:13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.
That she is firmly and completely in command is indicated by the number seven used to describe her dominion.
Many have tried to link these passages of John’s prophecy to physical kings or kingdoms, especially those that point to governments that came after the first century, but it would be a fruitless exercise to view these prophecies in a literal sense while treating the surrounding symbols as symbolic.
The seven heads of the beast allude to the first century Caesars and the world powers that followed. Some interpret the seven kings as seven kinds of government; kings, consuls, tributes, decemviri, dictators, pagan emperors, and Christian emperors. Five of these were extinct when this prophecy was written; one was then in power, that is the pagan emperor; and the other, the seventh, is the Christian emperor, who was yet to come.
Five have already fallen and one is, which means that is the one, which existed when John wrote the prophecy, alluding to the Roman Empire of the first century. The one to come, from John’s perspective, the seventh, refers to the Christian emperor after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Some say that the Christian emperor refers to the Pope of Rome, but it rather points to the rise of Christianity within the pagan world. As Christianity gains momentum, so the antichrist will increase his power also. The Roman Church can hardly be classed as the object of the evil of the antichrist. Casting the papacy into such a narrow role denies us the perspective needed to see the march of liberalism, Islam, and other evil governments, on our faith. It also ascribes powers to the papacy that it rightfully will never have, while Scripture teaches us that antichrists are those who deny that Jesus is the Son of God. In spite of the horrendous doctrines of the Roman Church, restricting the cunningness of the Antichrist to one such group is to ignore Satan’s ability to prowl around seeking whom he can devour.
We are truly experiencing the reign of the antichrist already in the present time, but not as fully matured and ferocious as it would develop towards the end time. The majority of the seven kings have already been destroyed and the one that is the most powerful, the eighth, is yet to come.
There is now a strange turn of events. The beast, who is, is not, and yet will come, has seven heads but here the beast itself claims the position of an eighth king, belonging to the seven, which means the eighth king is of the same species or origin as the seven. The Antichrist himself will take on the role of the eighth king, rising from the abyss for the final onslaught.
The number eight also has numerological value. Where seven is the number for completeness, the number eight introduces a new order or campaign; it is the start of the following seven, so to speak. It further supports the interpretation that this beast will rise up from the abyss. The Antichrist comes to introduce a new era in which his evil will abound and the church will be tested to the full. All his efforts to mislead the church are to no avail and he goes to his destruction.
These ten kings illustrate the completeness of the antichrist’s power, which lies in the future, ‘not yet received a kingdom.’ They will receive their authority, again, not for a literal one hour, but for a very short period.
During this short period, they will harmonize with the beast and be a very powerful force, which, if that time is not cut short, might even destroy the elect, if that were possible.
In their unity, they set out to overcome the Lamb and destroy the church, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is God, ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’ even though He has the appearance of a meek and helpless lamb. They appear to be an overwhelming force, the beast and his evil henchmen will do everything in their power to destroy Christ’s work. They realize that there will not be another opportunity.
The apparent contradiction in this verse, and throughout Scripture, that a mere Lamb can overcome such as powerful foe, speaks to all of us that we ought not to merely consider Jesus as our friend, or that He is weak in his meekness. Jesus is the Lamb of God but He is also the one through whom God works immediately to execute his judgment. We ought not to fall into the trap of complacency believing that Jesus, although our friend, is our equal.
Deuteronomy 10:17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
Psalm 21:8, 9 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies; your right hand will seize your foes. 9At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.
Daniel 2:47 The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery."
Daniel 7:27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.
Micah 5:9 Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.
I Corinthians 15:24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
I Timothy 6:15 …God will bring [it] about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus’ followers are identified in three ways in this passage, namely, called, chosen and faithful. They are called by hearing the gospel.
Psalm 16:11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Romans 2:16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
I Thessalonians 1:5 Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
I Thessalonians 2:12 Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
II Thessalonians 2:14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
They are chosen by God the Father, even before creation.
II Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Romans 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
Romans 11:2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel?
Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. 11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.
II Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
I Peter 1:2 Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
They are faithful.
They remain faithful in the teachings of Jesus, eagerly following and professing him.
John 12:36 "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.
I Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
Romans 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Galatians 3:8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."
Colossians 1:5, 23 The faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel. 23If you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Hebrews 4:2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
The waters point to the nations of the world, ‘…peoples, multitudes, nations and languages,’ which is supported by other passages in Scripture…
Psalm 18:4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
Psalm 65:7 Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.
Psalm 93:3, 4 The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. 4Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea--the LORD on high is mighty.
Jeremiah 51:13, 42, 55 You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be cut off. 42The sea will rise over Babylon; its roaring waves will cover her. 55The LORD will destroy Babylon; he will silence her noisy din. Waves [of enemies] will rage like great waters; the roar of their voices will resound.
Isaiah 8:6-8 "Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah. 7Therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River--the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its bank. 8And sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel!"
Isaiah 60:5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
The angel continues to explain to John what these visions mean. We see here that strife and anarchy is developing within the antichrist’s kingdom. The woman, the capital of the pagan world, is devoured by her own subjects, robbing her of her status and authority, destroying her domain. Evil knows no loyalty; it has no conscience and it will remain allied with those who can best serve its cause at the time and only for as long as it is expedient. As soon as the value of the alliance is spent, evil will turn on itself and devour prior henchmen, or even its ruler.
Evil cannot, however, act in accordance with God’s plan, and although it is prone to self-destruction in some fashion, God cannot allow evil to determine the course of his actions; evil will always be subjected to God’s plan and will.
The reason for the antichrist’s self-destruction to happen at this particular time is found at the hands of God, putting in their hearts that which would accomplish his purpose. It is by God’s permissive will that the beast and the ten kings rule, so that His words are fulfilled. They will join the beast to rally for the final battle against the church.
Isaiah 13:17, 18 See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. 18Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children.
Jeremiah 50:41, 42 "Look! An army is coming from the north; a great nation and many kings are being stirred up from the ends of the earth. 42They are armed with bows and spears; they are cruel and without mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, O Daughter of Babylon.
Ezekiel 16:37-41 Therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. 38I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. 39Then I will hand you over to your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare. 40They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. 41They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers.
God works in the hearts of men, both righteous and wicked, to accomplish his purpose.
Psalm 105:24, 25 The LORD made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes, 25whose hearts he turned to hate his people, to conspire against his servants.
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD'S purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
Isaiah 46:10, 11 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. 11From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.
Acts 4:27, 28 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
II Thessalonians 2:11, 12 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
An interesting translation of the Greek word poieo, occurs in this passage, which is ‘by agreeing’ while poieo is a verb that means ‘to make,’ ‘to do,’ ‘to produce,’ ‘to ordain,’ ‘to be the author of something,’ ‘to bring about,’ and ‘to act, celebrate, keep, make ready.’
A rare use of poiein in the New Testament occurs in only a few verses, where the meaning includes agreement, not in the authority of the command, but in the willingness to participate or the commonality of the purpose.
Mark 9:5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
Acts 7:40 They told Aaron, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt--we don't know what has happened to him!'
Hebrews 8:5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.
Revelation 13:14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived
What we are told in this passage of Revelation is that although the ten kings agreed to give the beast his powers, it was by the consequence of God’s will that they acted willingly to surrender their authority.
This passage confirms once more that the woman is the great city, which rules over the entire world. The name Babylon is not mentioned in the passage, indicating that she depicts a city of which Babylon was a mere type; unrighteous and billowing evil over the entire world.
At the end of this important chapter, it may be beneficial to look at these end verses in summary, so that we may have a better understanding before dealing with chapter 18.
As wisdom was required to crack the code of the beast’s number and name in Revelation 13:18, so now wisdom is needed to interpret the beast’s seven heads and ten horns. In the flexibility of visionary symbolism, the seven heads stand for seven mountains and for seven kings. The seven mountains refer to the well-known geography of Rome’s site. But in prophetic imagery mountains are associated with great power or rule, and God had called ancient Babylon a ‘destroying mountain.’
Jeremiah 51:24, 25 "Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion," declares the LORD. 25I am against you, O destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth," declares the LORD. "I will stretch out my hand against you, roll you off the cliffs, and make you a burned-out mountain.”
So, both mountains and kings symbolize the worldwide (sevenfold=comprehensive) authority given to the beast to rule ‘every tribe and people and tongue and nation.’
Of the seven kings, five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while longer. The details of the description sound so specific that it seems to invite attempts to draw a one-to-one correlation with a series of particular kings or kingdoms, since the four beasts in Daniel’s vision are interpreted as kings, though they plainly symbolize four kingdoms, Daniel 7:17.
Various proposals have been offered on the supposition that the seven kings stand for seven Roman emperors, the sixth of whom is presumably on the throne as John writes. If the information supplied in Revelation 17:10 were intended to identify the reigning emperor, he could be anyone from Nero on into the early second century. This would depend on whether one begins with Julius Caesar, who was technically pre-imperial but founded the dynasty from which early emperors descended, or with Augustus, the first official emperor.
It also depends on whether one includes all emperors or only those honored by the senate with posthumous deification and whether one omits or includes the three rivals who struggled for power in the year after Nero’s death. Admittedly, wisdom is needed to crack the code, but with so many variables yielding so many plausible alternatives, there is reason to question whether the purpose of the symbolism is to comment on political history, much less to locate John’s visions within the chronology of first-century imperial succession.
Various commentators list the emperors in order, with potential identifications of the five who have fallen, the one who is, and the seventh whose brief reign is yet future, depending on the variable mentioned above. Their consensus is that, tempting though this history-of-emperors approach may be, in the end it is not sustainable.
Doubts about the political history interpretation increase when we meet the complications of Revelation 17:11, where we are told that the beast is both ‘one of the seven’ and an eighth king who will succeed the seventh, short-lived ruler.
The proposal that the seven, or eight, kings are world kingdoms, particularly those that have conquered or will conquer the people of God, seems more promising at first. The sixth kingdom, which ‘is’ must be those symbolized by the first three beasts of Daniel 7: Chaldeans, with ancient Babylon as their capital; the Medes and Perisians; and the Greeks, including their Seleucid successors. The other two would perhaps include Egypt, which enslaved the Israelites before the exodus and is one of the symbolic names given the ‘great city’ in Revelation 11:8. Sodom is the other name given the great city; yet Sodom, though notorious for immorality, was not a persecutor of God’s people.
Assyria, conqueror of the northern kingdom, would be a plausible nominee, since God indicts its capital, Nineveh, as a harlot and spreader of harlotry. (Nahum 3:4). The kingdom interpretation falters, however, when we try to identify the seventh kingdom that will follow Rome and remain briefly, thereafter to be replaced by the beast. Which kingdom comes after Rome? Barbarian invaders from the north? Centuries later, Islam expanding from the southeast? Many centuries later, Nazism or communism? Or has this approach to the symbolism led us into another blind alley?
The solution to the puzzle may be simpler, if understanding the message of the seven or eight kings is not dependent on historiographic expertise: Seven symbolizes completeness, so it shows that the beast’s reign apparently holds sway over the whole history of fallen humanity. Yet, from the perspective of God’s plan to establish his kingdom under the scepter of the Lamb, the beast’s time is drawing short – five out of seven already ‘have fallen.’ We can be sure that we are not yet at the very end of the conflict of the ages. The one king who ‘has not yet come’ and must ‘remain a little while’ shows that, though the dragon has been decisively defeated by the blood of the Lamb and therefore has ‘only a short time’, nevertheless the church must be prepared to endure further suffering.
The church must persevere not only under the pressure of present levels of suffering, which is under the seventh king, but also under the coming, crushing conspiracy of its enemies at the end, under the beast to arise as an eighth king.
This final assault against the church by the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and their allies is pictured in various ways throughout Revelation:
The emergence of the beast from the abyss to wage war against the witnesses and overcome and kill them;
The emergence of the beast from the sea to wage war against the saints and overcome them – killing those who refuse its mark;
The gathering of the kings to wage the war of the great day of God, the Almighty;
The gathering of the beast with earth’s kings and residents to wage war against the Word of God, who rides the white horse, and his army;
The dragon’s ‘short time’ of release from the abyss, when he will gather the nations for the war against the camp of the saints and the beloved city.
Ezekiel 16:37, 41 Therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. 38I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. 39Then I will hand you over to your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you naked and bare. 40They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. 41They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers.
So, the great city will be plundered, helpless, exposed to the shame of nakedness, dismantled and consumed by the paramours whom she seduced and intoxicated in her prime. Satan’s kingdom will be divided against itself and will not stand. Forces of violence and bloodshed, on which Roman culture and all man-centered cultures rely for the stability that makes commerce, transportation, music and the arts, and everyday domestic life possible, will turn on the civilization they have sustained and attack it. Like the beast it is, the beast will turn on the harlot and tear her limb from limb.
The irony of Babylon’s fall magnifies the incomparable power and wisdom of God. The beast and its allies, raging in hostility toward the Lamb and his bride, will be the weapons that God uses to bring down the harlot, who was once the beast’s royal consort. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.
If there is one thing in the entire world that the rebels do not want to do, it is the purpose of God. But they are helpless to keep that sovereign purpose out of their hearts, to protect their minds from invasion by the Lord God Almighty. In doing what they want to do, hating the harlot and ripping her to pieces, they are doing precisely what God wants. In gathering to wage war against the Messiah, they are merely assembling for their own execution.
After the first angel of the seven appeared with the bowls in Revelation 17:1, a second angel descends from heaven.
 Reworked from Dennis E. Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb.