Three beasts in Revelation have seven heads. They are the Dragon (12:3), the Sea Beast (13:1) and the Scarlet Beast (17:3). These three beasts have been identified in a separate article. The purpose of this article is to determine what these seven heads represent. The heads are explained by Revelation as follows:
“Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. (Rev 17:9-10 NASB)
The popular Preterist interpretation—the view of academics, generally—is that the seven heads or mountains are the Seven Hills of Rome, and that the seven kings are something different, namely literal emperors of the Roman Empire. However, the heads and the kings are the same. This means that the heads do not exist simultaneously—they follow each other chronologically (see 19:9-10 quoted above). They therefore cannot be the Seven Hills of Rome.
The following justify the statement that the heads are the same as the kings:
(A) The KJV and NKJV translations give the incorrect impression that the kings (17:10) are different from the heads and mountains upon which the woman sits, mentioned in 17:9. The KJV begins 17:10 with, “And there are seven kings.” Even worse, the NKJV says, “There are also seven kings.” As in the NASB quoted above, it should read “And they are seven kings”. All the Greek texts, although differing in word order, include the following words, literally translated, “and kings they are seven”. The words “there” and “also” in the KJV and NKJV translations are not in the Greek.
(B) According to 17:9 the heads are mountains. Nobody disputes that. What is disputed is whether the kings in 17:10 are the same as the mountains. But the relationship between kings (17:10) and mountains (17:9) is well-established in Scripture—mountains represent the power of kingdoms and their individual kings (Isaiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 17:3; 31:23; 51:24, 25; Ezekiel 17:22-23; Zech. 4:7). In Habakkuk 3:6 the mountains may be seen as the nations which God scattered. The stone (Dan 2:34) becomes a great mountain (Dan 2:35), which is explained as “a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44). And “Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it” (Isa 2:2 NASB). If the heads are mountains, and the mountains are kings, then the heads are kings as well.
So what are the heads? Firstly, the beast consists of the seven heads. Imagine a beast with seven heads. Now take away the seven heads. What is left is a dead carcass. Without its heads these is no beast. This is confirmed by the text when it says that the harlot (Babylon) sits on both the Beast and on its seven heads (17:3, 9). In Daniel 7 there is a leopard with four heads (Dan 7:6). This is interpreted as Greece, and the four heads are interpreted as the four Grecian kingdoms that arose after Alexander’s death. Also in this case the beast (leopard) consists of the four heads and it not something apart from them. The relationship between the beast and its heads is similar to the relationship between the image of a man in Daniel 2and the metals it consists of. The image consists of the metals, while the metals represent chronologic kingdoms. Actually, there is no Beast. It is only the heads that exist. The Beast is the sum of the heads. Everywhere that Revelation says that the beast does something, it is actually one of the heads (kings) that is doing it.
Secondly, the heads follow each other chronologically (17:10) and represent the exercise of the beast’s oppressive rule through one head at a time over the course of history. The heads can therefore be understood as seven consecutive phases of the Beast.
Thirdly, the term “king” represents “kingdom” in prophetic symbols, just as a leader represents his people. For example, Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar that “head of gold” but explained that another “kingdom” would follow (Dan 2:37ff). In Daniel 7:17 and 23 the four beast are first explained as “kings” but later as “kingdoms”. Most non-Preterist interpreters therefore take the seven kings to be world empires, but they disagree on which.
Fourthly, many people find heads by looking at empires that precede the ancient Babylonian Empire. It is proposed here that such a procedure is not consistent with the principle that Revelation is built on Daniel. According to this principle, one should not look outside of Daniel for the interpretation of the heads. This approach is confirmed by the fact that the beasts of Revelation all have 7 heads and 10 horns, while the beasts in Daniel 7 have, in total, also have 7 heads and 10 horns, implying a close relationship between the beasts of Daniel and Revelation.
This does not mean that the seven heads are the same as the seven heads of the beasts of Daniel 7. Daniel’s third empire (Greece) had four heads (Dan 7:6). If the seven heads of Revelation’s beast were the same as the seven heads of the beasts of Daniel 7, then the third to sixth heads would be the four Grecian empires, which existed simultaneously. This would be inconsistent with Revelation, because, according to 17:10, the sixth head follows in time after the fifth.
THE FIRST FIVE HEADS
On the basis of the principle discussed above that we should identify the heads from the beasts in Daniel, the four beasts in Daniel are the first four heads. They are:
The dragon with seven heads (Rev 12) is identified as Satan (12:9), but that identification is in the context of the war in heaven. When it stands before the woman that carries the promised child, it has seven heads (12:3-4) which are “seven kings” (17:10). In that context it therefore also represents an earthly power. In particular it represents Rome, the fourth beast of Daniel 7, because that was the empire ruling at the birth of Jesus. On the basis of the principle above, namely that the beasts of Revelation are actually heads, it is confirmed that Romeis one of the heads.
The beast that comes out of the sea, with seven heads, (the Sea Beast) inherits from four other animals:
And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. (Rev 13:2 NASB)
The leopard, bear and lion are the first three animals in Daniel 7 (7:3-5). The fourth animal in Daniel 7 is not compared to any known animal but is described as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth” (Dan 7:7). This sounds like a dragon. The Sea Beast therefore inherits from each of the four beasts in Daniel. In the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation it was for this reason and others concluded that the Sea Beast is the 11th horn growing out of Daniel’s fourth empire. On the basis of the principle that the beasts of Revelation are actually heads, it is proposed that this 11th horn is the fifth head.
THE LAST TWO HEADS
Revelation mentions something about the 11th horn (the Sea Beast) which is not mentioned by Daniel, namely that this beast receives a deadly wound (13,3), but recovers from that wound to become the most destructive force ever in history. After its fatal wound was healed, the whole earth was “amazed” after the beast” (13:3), and they (“everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life”—13:8) worshiped the dragon and the beast (13:4, 8). This wound is not mentioned by Daniel.
It is very important to note that Revelation 17 indicates that the wound-period is the sixth head. This is based on the following observations:
(A) The recovery from the wound is the same as the ascension from the Abyss, for the following reasons:
- What happens after the recovery of the wound is the same as what happens after the beast comes out of the Abyss (whole world—not in book of life—worship 13:8; 17:8). (See the article on the seven headed beasts for more information.)
- It is quite unexpected that the anti-God persecuting powers go through a period of incapacity. It is therefore likely that the period of incapacity in Revelation 13 (wound) is the same as the period of incapacity in Revelation 17 (wilderness, “is not”, Abyss).
(B) Revelation explains both the seven heads and the beast in terms of the past, the present and the future (see table below). The sixth head is the “present” head, but at “present” the beast is in the Abyss. The Abyss-period is therefore the 6th head.
Come up from the abyss
Other has not yet come
To conclude, let us revisit: The heads of Revelation are limited to the beasts in Daniel. Daniel mentions five “beasts”, if we add the 11th horn, which we must, because it is the main anti-God power in Daniel, and it is also the main anti-God power in Revelation (Sea Beast). These are then the first five heads. Revelation informs us that the fifth beast actually has three phases, because it receives a deadly wound somewhere during its existence, but recovers from that wound. Revelation also tells us that the wound-period is the sixth head. This results in the following seven heads:
- Little horn
- Little horn mortally wounded (13:3) / in abyss (17:8) / in wilderness (17:3)
- Little horn resurrected (13:4)—Time of the False Prophet and Image of the Beast
This interpretation provides a challenge, because many commentaries hold that the explanation of the vision in Revelation 17 is given relative to John time. This would mean that the sixth head (17:8) is in John’s time. Please see the discussion of Revelation 17 for a response to this challenge.