Babylon Rides the Beast

Babylon, the Great Harlot, for centuries has ridden the Beast from the Sea and its seven heads and ten horns – Revelation 17:7-13. 

Cosmic “Babylon” sits on the same malignant creature that John saw earlier “ascending from the sea.” It combines the four “beasts from the sea” presented in the book of Daniel. Now, we discover its “lineage” and preview its destruction described with language from Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and the “little horn.”

The Beast’s final incarnation evolves over a long history of beastly political powers. It is an imperial entity that transcends human history - that began with the ancient Tower of Babel “in the land of Shinar” - (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 7:1-8, 15-26, Revelation 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 seven heads and 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.”


In the passage, “astonished” translates the Greek verb thaumazō, meaning “wonder, marvel; to be astonished.” Perhaps John was overwhelmed by the splendor of the “Harlot.”

However, here, the term astonished” echoes Daniel's reaction to his visions of the “fourth beast” and the “king of fierce countenance” that arose from one of the four kingdoms that originated from the conquests of Alexander the Great:

  • (Daniel 7:28) – “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much ASTONISHED 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 understanding is confirmed by the angel’s reaction to John’s astonishment: “I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the Beast that carries her.” So, also, Daniel was troubled by his visions, not simply by their content, but because he did not understand their significance.

The mystery” of “Babylon the Great” revealed by the angel is the mystery of the Harlot AND the “Beast on which she sits.” The activities and fates of the two are intertwined.


The Beast has “seven heads and ten horns.” It is the same creature seen by John “ascending from the sea,” only now, it is described as one that “was and is not and is going to ascend from the Abyss.”

The prediction of this “Beast” ascending from the “Abyss” is a verbal link to the story of the “Two Witnesses” that are killed by the Beast that “ascends from the Abyss.” In other words, the same reality is in view in both passages. When the final incarnation of the “Beast” ascends from the “Abyss,” it will wage war on the witnesses of the “Lamb.”

The description recalls the “head” of the “Beast” that received the death blow but was “healed” in chapter 13. Just as the “inhabitants of the earth wondered after the Beast” when its wound was healed, now, they “wonder because it WAS AND IS NOT AND WILL BE PRESENT.”

The description of it being “not” but then “present” alludes to Daniel’s vision of the “fourth beast” and its predicted fate. Despite their demise, the “four beasts” continued to exist in some fashion for a designated “season”:

  • (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.”

The description parodies the declaration that God is the one “who is and who was and is coming.” Thus, the “Beast” claims divine prerogatives. But unlike the “coming” of God that produces victory, the “arrival of the “Beast” results in its destruction - (Revelation 1:4, 11:15-19).

It “will be present.” The term rendered “present” is pareimi, “to arrive; to be present,” and it is related to the noun ‘parousia’ used often in the New Testament for the future “arrival” of Jesus.

Here, the “arrival” of the “Beast” is compared to that of Jesus. One ends in glory, and the other, in destruction - (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9).

Whose name is not written upon the book of life.” Since the “inhabitants of the earth… give allegiance” to the “Beast from the sea,” they are excluded from the Lamb’s “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 clause parallels the earlier call to understand the “number of the beast,” and it recalls the prediction given to Daniel at the end of his final vision - (Revelation 13:18):

  • (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 provides the interpretation. The “seven heads” represent “mountains,” which in turn, represent “kings” or kingdoms. From John’s perspective, five have “fallen,” one is a present reality, and the seventh is yet to arrive.

Five of the kingdoms are in John’s past. The one that existed in his day can only be the Roman Empire. Thus, the “Beast” is a TRANSHISTORICAL REALITY, just as the single “Beast from the sea” includes the animal characteristics of all four of Daniel’s “beasts” - (Revelation 13:1).

The last “kingdom” has not yet “come,” at least, not by John’s time. When it does arrive, it will remain for “a little while.” This translates the Greek term oligos, the same one used when the Devil is expelled to the earth for a “short time.”

Likewise, at the end of the “thousand years,” the Devil is released from the “Abyss” for “a little while.” The same “short” period is in view in all three passages. Thus, the arrival of the beast’s final incarnation coincides with Satan’s release from the “Abyss” - (Revelation 12:12, 20:3).

The final kingdom “was and is not.” This describes the same reality represented by the beast’s “head” that received the “death stroke that was healed.”

And the last “kingdom” is one of the “seven,” but is also an “eighth.” That is, the final “Beast” is from the same lineage as its predecessors, but it will also be something beyond them - (Revelation 16:16).

The “ten horns are ten kings.” They will not receive their sovereignty until the “hour of trial” that will befall the “whole habitable earth” who will give their allegiance to the “Beast.”

The “ten kings” are identical to the “kings of the earth” that ally themselves with the “Beast” and subjugate themselves to “Babylon.”

In Revelation, the number “ten” represents an entire series. As we will see, all the “kings of the earth” along with the nations from the “four corners of the earth” will join the “beast” in its final assault against the “Lamb” and his “saints.”



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