I want to offer some thoughts on the "seven kings" described in Revelation ch17.
And on the ""eighth one" who succeeds them.
I'm going to be asking the question; where do these kings belong in the story of Revelation?
The seven kings make their appearance in Revelation ch17 v10, as one of the explanations of the seven heads of the Beast.
The number "seven", in Revelation, is a number which points us towards the action of God.
The implication is that God is controlling the limits of the sequence- that's the number that he's willing to allow.
We know nothing about the first five, except that they have "fallen".
There's a king in the present, the one who "is".
And there's a king in the future, who remains "only a little while".
Then we're told that the Beast, "who was and is not", is an eighth and "out of" (EK) the seven. "One of their number" is the usual interpretation. Or,
just possibly, "following on from them".
That word "Eighth" also has associations with Christ.
1 Peter ch3 v20 observes that eight persons were saved on the Ark, which is a symbol of the salvation made possible through Christ.
2 Peter ch2 v5, making exactly the same point, describes how Noah was saved from the Flood "as an eighth man" (OGDOON). However, that particular
detail of number symbolism is invisible to the readers of most modern translations, which tend to give a rendering like "saved along with seven
others". (This is one of my favourite examples of the drawbacks of paraphrase translation; if the writer of the paraphrase misses the point, he also
makes it impossible for his readers to find it for themselves)
In addition to that, some of the early Fathers liked to observe that Christ was raised from the dead on what was effectively "the eighth day of the
week", because it was the day following the seventh. So the event could be described as "the eighth day of Creation", because it completed and
perfected the work of the original seven.
"Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into
heaven"- "Epistle of Barnabas"- 15 v9
If the Beast is taking a number which is associated with Christ, that may be an additional indication that it presents itself as an imitation of
In the timeline of Revelation
Part of the sequence of kings can be correlated with events in the other chapters of Revelation.
Presumably the sixth king, the one who "is", belongs to the time when John is receiving these visions.
That puts him in the first chapter of this book, which appears to be a time of tribulation for the church.
(in which case, the first five kings don't enter into the picture at all)
We know that the "eighth" is the Beast.
This means that the "seventh king" occupies the period between those two points.
That period includes the events of ch6, which come just before the rise of the Beast.
I think, then. we have just discovered why the seventh king remains "only a little while". His reign must be the one that is interrupted and cut short
by the catastrophic events of the "Four Horsemen".
That gives us a rough timescale for these events.
The tribulation implied in ch1, and God's response to it in ch6, must be separated by the kind of interval which would place them under successive
kings (or regimes?).
In the Beast
These kings relate to the Beast in two different ways- the seven are "the heads of the Beast", and the eighth is "the Beast itself".
The first appearance of the Beast with seven heads and ten horns comes at the beginning of ch13;
(My previous discussion of it can be found here; The Beast from the sea
The Beast was rising out of the sea, like the various beasts of the vision of Daniel ch7.
Since the beasts of Daniel's vision represent kingdoms, that's the most natural way of understanding the Beast of ch13.
Following the analogy of the "four-headed leopard" in Daniel's vision, I suggested that the seven heads represented subordinate kingdoms, probably
coming in sequence, and that the "Beast which recovered from a mortal wound" would be a revived version of one of them.
The Beast which appears in ch17 seems to be exactly the same Beast, though the place of origin is now given as "the bottomless pit".
I'm inclined to think that "the sea" and "the bottomless pit" are the same place, for symbolic purposes.
They both have their roots in the "deep" (ABYSSOS), from which God organised the universe at the beginning of Genesis.
In that story, the sea is part of "the deep"; it is the lower portion of the great waters, the portion that remains "below the firmament".
While the fact that the pit is "bottomless" (ABYSSOS) is a pointer in the same direction.
They both represent, in slightly different metaphors, "that part of the universe which God has not organised for human habitation".
This makes them suitable symbols in Revelation for the source of evil.
We're told that the Beast "was and is not and is to come".
This needs to be set against the way that ch1 describes the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come".
Clearly the difference between them is the opposition between those two central statements, "IS", and "IS NOT".
That is as far apart as it is possible for two statements to get, which makes the Beast the polar opposite of God.
This definition of the Beast is echoed in the "was and is not" of v11.
That seems to force the conclusion that the "eighth" of v11 is not any individual king, but the world dominating state (the Beast from the sea)
In ancient Rome
This chapter offers two interpretations of the seven heads, and they're both pointing towards Rome.
They are "the seven mountains" on which the woman sits.
These are normally identified with the hills of Rome.
The objection is sometimes raised that classical Rome was renowned for nine
However, there was an ancient celebration, the Septimontium ("Seven-hills festival") which came down from an earlier phase in the city's history.
And, of course, they are the "seven kings".
Any Roman citizen who saw this phrase would have been reminded of the seven legendary kings of ancient Rome, from Romulus to Tarquin the Proud.
The sixth king in that sequence was Sextus Tullius, who was murdered by Tarquin.
Later Tarquin himself was expelled, so that he did not reign for the full extent of his life. He remained "only a little while".
The seven kings were then followed by the Roman republic- which, in this context, must count as "the eighth".
In John's Rome
Since John was writing, in the first instance, for the church of his own time, the obvious possibility is that these kings can also be matched against
the rulers of the day.
Part of the problem is knowing where to begin counting, because the Roman state slipped only gradually from republic to monarchy.
The rulers could not call themselves "kings", because the term was abhorrent in Rome.
They sometimes called themselves IMPERATOR, but this was really a military honour, older than the Caesars, and they might assume the title more than
In a sense, the "monarchs" of Rome began with Augustus, who started calling himself PRINCEPS ("Number One")
Or else we might count the members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which provides the sequence;
1. Julius Caesar
Since the sixth king in the sequence is supposed to be associated with a time of tribulation, that would seem to be the best solution.
If we try to extend the count beyond Nero, it becomes a little problematic.
There's a theory that Domitian was regarded as "the eighth", perhaps as a revivified Nero.
This gets a little support from some of the early Christian writers, who say that John was exiled in his reign.
But fitting him into the sequence requires a little juggling; Nero must be counted as the fifth (on the PRINCEPS theory), and the rulers of the
turbulent year following his death must be ignored, so that Vespasian and Titus can be counted as sixth and seventh.
It also involves refusing to take at face value the statement that the sixth
king is the one who "is" at the time of writing.
If John's own standpoint really is the reign of the sixth king, then his comments on the seventh and eighth would be looking forward from his own
His fellow-Christians would have been experiencing a time of tribulation, and they would be looking for some response from God.
The sequence of kings has a message for them; tribulation comes in the time of the sixth king, but the seventh king is the one who remains "only a
little while"- swept away, apparently, by the events of ch6.
In other words, God's response comes- not quite immediately, but after a comparatively short interval. In the context of the Neronian persecution, a
fulfilment of this might be seen in the turbulent year which followed his death.
But the rise of the "eighth" points to the fact that this immediate vindication would not be the end of the story. There would be at least one more
hostile ruler and one more persecution (and this warning found fulfilment even in the later history of the Roman empire)
In a later time
On the assumption that John was also writing for the church of later times, people sometimes try to match these kings against more modern monarchs.
But this, too, is problematic, since we don't have any firm grounds for choosing one particular line, or even for making the assumption that the
sequence has already started.
One fairly popular theory points towards Charles, Prince of Wales. There were seven Holy Roman Emperors called Charles, says the theory, and a future
leadership of the European Union would make him effectively the eighth.
But he's too late, it's already been done. The nineteenth century "Austrian Empire" was a "continuation" of the Holy Roman Empire in a much more real
and conscious sense than anything the European Union is likely to come up with, and it concluded with the Emperor Karl (1916-1918). This man was the
real "eighth" member of that particular sequence.
Perhaps a better way to employ the sequence of kings for future prophecy is to find the same message in it that John's church would have found,
starting with the sixth king.
The sixth king represents a time of tribulation, of persecution.
The distance between the sixth king and the seventh king represents the comparatively short interval that would elapse between the time of tribulation
and God's response (the great world-crisis of the Four Horsemen).
The "eighth" is a reminder that the Four Horsemen would not be the end of the story.
Because the rise of the Beast would follow thereafter.
edit on 21-11-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)