When is the sixth head of the beast? (Revelation 17:10)

Purpose of this article

Great Red DragonIn Revelation 17, the harlot sits on a beast with seven heads. According to Rev 17:10, five of the seven heads “have fallen,” the sixth head “is” and the seventh “has not yet come.” To understand what this means, we need to know from what time perspective this statement is made. In other words, when “is” the sixth head? 

Based on the argument that this explanation was given to John, and that John had to understand it, one option is that the sixth head existed in John’s time. However, the purpose of this article is to show that the sixth head refers to “the end of time;” a phrase from Daniel 12:4 (Young’s Literal Translation).

Summary

The context of Revelation 17 is the end-time.

In the last of the seven last plagues, Babylon receives God’s wrath (Rev 16:19). Revelation 17 then interrupts the sequence of events to explain who Babylon is and how she will come to her end. The context of Revelation 17, therefore, is the very last events of the history of this world.

The vision and explanation
describe the same time.

Revelation 17 consists of a vision and an explanation. It is possible to argue that the vision and the explanation describe the beast from different time perspectives. However, the vision and the explanation describe the same point in history because both describe the harlot and her beast in an unusual time of weakness. [Both the beast and her beast are in the wilderness and the beast has no horns, “is not,” and is in the abyss (Rev 17:3, 8).] Therefore, Since the context of Revelation 17 is the time of the end, that is the time perspective in both the vision and the explanation.

All events after the sixth head
are end-time events.

In the events described in Revelation 17, after the sixth head “is,” a coalition of the nations of the world will form (v12-13), make war against the Lamb but be defeated (v14), and then turn on the harlot and destroy her (v16-17). Since these events after the sixth head “is” are the very last events of this world’s history—parallel to the last two plagues—the sixth head is the “time of the end.”

The seven heads add detail to Daniel’s beasts.

The seven heads of the beast are the seven phases of the beast’s existence. Since Revelation’s beasts are a more detailed explanation of the beasts of Daniel 7, we must limit the seven heads to the empires symbolized in Daniel 7. But if the seven heads were explained from the perspective of John’s time (Rev 17:10), then the sixth head exists during his time and it would not possible to comply with this principle because we will have to identify 5 empires from before John’s time.

Daniel will only be understood
in the time of the end.

Since the beasts of Revelation are more detailed explanations of the beasts of Daniel 7, the heads will only be understood when Daniel is understood, and the angel promised Daniel that his prophecies would be understood in “the end of time” (Dan 12:4 YLT). That means that that the explanation in Revelation 17 is given from the time perspective of the prophets living at the time of the end.

When the sixth head “is,”
the beast “is not.”

Rev 17:8 describes the beast as existing through four phases:

The beast that you saw was,
and is not,
and is about to come up out of the abyss
and go to destruction
” (Rev 17:8 NASB)

Therefore, at the same time that the sixth head “is” (Rev 17:10), the beast “is not” and in the abyss (Rev 17:8), which means that it is incapacitated. This cannot be true of John’s time because the church was intensely persecuted by the Roman Empire during the first three centuries.

The sixth head is the fatal wound.

Revelation 13:1-8 and 17 describe the same three phases of the beast’s existence. Since the second phase in Rev 17, when the beast “is not,” is equivalent to the deadly wound in Rev 13, and since we know that the deadly wound describes an event much later than the time of John, the present time in Rev 17, when the sixth head “is,” cannot be John’s time.

– END OF SUMMARY –

(1a) The context of Revelation 17
is the end-time.

The “seven last plagues” (Rev 21:9) are described in Revelation 16. In the seventh plague, God gives Babylon “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19). Revelation 17 and 18 interrupt the sequence of events to explain who Babylon is and how she will come to her end (e.g. Rev 17:16). The sequence of events then continues in Revelation 19, where God is praised for His judgment of Babylon (Rev 19:2), followed by the return of Christ (Rev 19:11). The context of Revelation 17, therefore, is the very last events. This implies that the time perspective in that chapter is the time of the end.

(1b) Both the vision and the explanation describe the end-time.

Revelation 17 consists of a vision (17:1-6) and an explanation. It is possible to argue that the vision and the explanation describe the beast from different time perspectives. However, the vision and the explanation describe the same point in history because both describe the harlot and her beast in an exceptional time of weakness. To explain:

Weakness in the vision

The harlot sitting on the beast symbolizes that religion dominates and uses political rulers to force people to accept her doctrines and decrees. As indicated by the following, the vision implies a time when the execution of this principle is weak:

Wilderness(a) The harlot and her beast are in the wilderness (Rev 17:3). The wilderness is a place of danger and difficulty. That they are in the wilderness implies that Babylon is unable to persecute people that oppose her. In other words, this is a time of religious freedom.

(b) The beast has no horns (Rev 17:3), compared to the other two seven-headed beasts that do have crowns (Rev 12:3; 13:1).

Weakness in the explanation

The explanation-part of the vision also implies a time of weakness, for the beast “is not” and in the abyss (Rev 17:8).
[The abyss implies a state of incapacity. For example, at the return of Christ, an angel will lock Satan up in the abyss “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev 20:2, 3).]

Conclusion

The principle that religion dominates and uses political rulers to force people to accept its decrees is valid at all times. Therefore, a time of weakness in the execution of this principle is unexpected and a historical exception.

Since both the vision and the explanation describe the harlot and her beast as in a time of weakness, it is concluded that the vision and the explanation describe the same point in history. Therefore, since the context of Revelation 17 is the time of the end, that is the time perspective in both the vision and the explanation.

(2) All events after the sixth head
are end-time events.

Since “five (heads) have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (Rev 17:10), Revelation 17 describes a specific point in history. But most of the explanation-part of Revelation 17, by far, deals with events future from that point in history.

In brief, those future events describe how Babylon will come to her end. Namely, the beast will come up out of the abyss (v8), become an eighth head (v11), join up with the 10 horn-kings (v12-13), make war against the Lamb but be defeated (v14), and then turn on the harlot and destroy her (v16-17). The point is that these events, that follow after the sixth head “is,” are the very last events of this world’s history. This implies that the sixth head “is,” in the time of the end.

In fact, these future events are parallel to the last two plagues:

    • The beast becomes an eighth head when demon spirits come from the unholy trinity (Rev 16:13);
    • The ten horns are parallel to the gathering of the kings at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16); and
    • The war with the Lamb and the destruction of the harlot are described in the seventh plague (Rev 16:19).

Given what we learn from the rest of the book of Revelation—such as Revelation 12—these events do not fit the history between the time of John and Christ’s return. Rather, since the events after the sixth head “is” are the very last events—parallel to the last two plagues—the sixth head is the “time of the end.”

(3) The seven heads add detail
to the beasts of Daniel 7.

The seven heads of the beast are understood to be the seven phases of the beast (compare Rev 17:8 and 10). The three seven-headed beasts of Revelation are a more detailed explanation of the series of beasts of Daniel 7. We see this in Revelation 13:2:

Since the sea beast receives something from each of the first four powers in Daniel 7, we can identify the sea beast as the fifth power in Daniel 7, namely, the little horn.

Since the dragon is mentioned in Rev 13:2 with three other beasts from Daniel 7, and since “dragon” is a good description for the fourth beast in Daniel 7 (Dan 7:7), the dragon of Rev 12:3 is the fourth beast of Daniel 7.

If the beasts in Revelation are an elaboration of the beasts of Daniel 7, then we must limit the seven heads (or phases) of the beast in Revelation to the empires mentioned in Daniel 7. But if the seven heads were explained in Revelation 17:10 from the perspective of John’s time, then the sixth head exists during his time and it would not possible to comply with this principle because we will have to identify 5 empires from before John’s time.

(4) Daniel will only be understood
in the time of the end.

The prophecy of the seven heads (Rev 17:10) is given from the time perspective of the prophet, but I would say that John is not the prophet because I cannot believe that John was expected to understand the explanation. John “wondered greatly” when he saw the harlot, just like he wept greatly in Rev 5:4. These emotions were part of the visions and do not indicate that John really understood.

Rather than saying that John had to understand the prophecy, therefore the sixth head “is” in John’s time, I would propose that Revelation 17:10 implies that the seven heads would only be understood with the hindsight of the first five heads or phases of the beast. In other words, the prophecy was given relative to the time of the prophets who are supposed to understand it.

Since the beasts of Revelation are more detailed explanations of the beasts of Daniel 7, the heads will only be understood when Daniel is understood, and the angel promised Daniel that his prophecies would be understood in “the end of time” (Dan 12:4 YLT). That means that that the explanation in Revelation 17 is intended for the prophets living at the time of the end.

A key turning point in Revelation

To further amplify this point, in both the seven seals and the seven trumpets, something comes out of heaven in the time of the end, namely:

    • The seal of the living God (Rev 7:2), initiating the sealing of the 144000, and
    • The little book, symbolizing understanding of the book of Daniel which was promised for “the end of time” (Rev 10:2; Dan 12:4), and initiating the end-time prophesying (Rev 10:11).

The time of the end,” therefore, is a key turning point in Revelation and an appropriate time perspective for the explanation of the seven heads in Rev 17:10.

(5a) When the sixth head “is,”
the beast “is not.”

Rev 17:8 describes the beast as existing through four literal and sequential phases:

The beast that you saw was,
and is not,
and is about to come up out of the abyss
and go to destruction
” (Rev 17:8 NASB)

Therefore, at the same time that the sixth head “is” (Rev 17:10), the beast “is not” and in the abyss (Rev 17:8), which means that it is incapacitated. This cannot be true of John’s time because the church was intensely persecuted by the Roman Empire during the first three centuries.

(5b) The “was … is not … will come
are literal phases of the beast.

The Almighty is described as “Him who is and who was and who is to come” (e.g., Rev 1:4). This is similar to the beast’s description as “was … is not … will come” (Rev 17:8). For that reason, one could argue that the beast is described in this way merely to symbolize that it is a counterfeit of God; not to indicate literal consecutive phases.

However, for the following reasons, Rev 17:8 does describe four literal chronological phases of the beast:

First, the last two phrases in the beast’s description [“is about to come up out of the abyss” and “and go to destruction” (17:8)] indicate literal events. Therefore, the first two phases (“was, and is not”) are also literal.

Second, that the people will “wonder” when they see that the beast ”was …is not … will come” (Rev 17:8) also means that his coming will be a literal event that can be observed. This again implies that the beast’s first two phases (“was, and is not”) are also literal events.

Third, actually, there is no beast. There are only the seven heads. Every time that we see a seven-headed beast in Revelation, we actually see one of the heads. Therefore, since the beast CONSISTS OF the seven heads, and since the heads exist in the past, the present, and the future (17:10), the beast also exists in the past, present, and future. This implies that the beast’s description – “was … is not … will come” (17:8) – refers to the past, present and future.

Lastly, while God’s description is NOT chronological, the beast’s description IS chronologically sequential. So, perhaps the two titles are not directly related.

(6) The “is not” of the beast
is the fatal wound.

Revelation 13:1-8 describes the beast as existing in three sequential chronological phases, namely (a) before, (b) during, and (c) after the deadly wound. This may be compared to the three-fold description of the beast in Revelation 17 as “was … is not … about to come up” (Rev 17:8).

In these two chapters, the third phases are described by Rev 13:8 and Rev 17:8. Both these verses describe the admiration which the people will have for the beast after its recovery. Both verses also describe the people as those whose names have has not been written in the book of life. This implies that these two verses describe the same event and that the third phases in the two chapters are parallel.

The second phases in the two chapters are also parallel for in both the beast is weak:

    • In the second phase in Rev 13,
      the beast is dead (the mortal wound of 13:3).
    • In the second phase in Rev 17,
      the beast “is not” and in the abyss (17:8).

For these reasons, it should be clear that we have the same three phases in the two chapters. Since the second phase in Rev 17, when the sixth head “is” and the beast “is not,” is equivalent to the deadly wound in Rev 13, and since we know that the deadly wound describes an event much later than the time of John, the present time in Rev 17, when the sixth head “is,” cannot be John’s time.

The seven heads identified

The Seven Heads

Previous articles have identified the first four heads as the four beasts of Daniel 7, namely Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Because the sea beast receives something from each of those four beasts, and particularly because it receives its power and authority from Daniel’s fourth beast (Rome) (Rev 13:2), the sea beast was identified as the fifth head, namely as the main character in Daniel 7 (the little horn), which is the medieval church. But the sea beast goes through three phases; (a) before, (b) during and (c) after the deadly wound, giving us the last three heads. For further explanations, see:

The Sixth Head

In the explanation above, the sixth head is the time of the deadly wound (Rev 13:3). In other words, during the sixth head, the beast is dead. Since the beast consists of the heads, when 13:3 indicates that the beast has a mortal wound on one of its heads, it means that that entire head is dead. 

Conclusions

The final conclusion is that the sixth head refers to “the end of time” (Dan 12:4). To arrive at this conclusion, the following general principles have been identified:

      • Revelation 17 interrupts the sequence of events to explain who Babylon is and how she will come to her end.
      • The vision and the explanation in Revelation 17 describe the same point in history.
      • Revelation’s beasts are a more detailed explanation of the beasts of Daniel 7.
      • The sixth head, which is the “is not” of the beast, is the fatal wound of Revelation 13.
      • The future events in Revelation 17 are parallel to the last two plagues:
      • The time of the end” is a key turning point in Revelation.
      • The “was … is not … will come” describe literal phases of the beast.

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