The Beast’s Bad Babe
Ok, so maybe the alliteration is a bit much. Chapter 17 shows the true nature of the system of Emperor-worship, personified as a woman of ill-repute (does anybody even use that expression anymore?). On the outside looks like a queenly figure, dressed in scarlet and royal purple, adorned with jewels and precious stones. On the inside she is a high-class prostitute who is living high on her sugar-daddy’s expense account.
But it gets worse. Her lifestyle comes at the cost of the blood of the true servants of Jesus Christ. She kills them in order to carry out her debauchery out of the light of a prophetic witness that would expose her.
Seven heads of the beast represent its multiple aspects (v. 9-10). The first represent the 7 mountains the woman sits upon – a first-century code for the city of Rome, the city of seven hills. They also represent 7 kings, of whom “five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come” (v. 10). Yet there is another who also is no longer, who is the eighth, yet belongs to the seven (v. 11).
One idea about those numbers might be that there were five acknowledged Emperors from Julius Caesar’s line. (Oddly enough, Julius was not considered and emperor in this scenario. He was merely a Dictator in the Roman Senate.) Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero were of the official original Imperial dynasty (Julio-Claudian). The year of Nero’s death there were four successive Emperors, culminating in Vespasian, who overthrew the last of the three before him to establish Rome’s second (Flavian) Imperial dynasty. His son Titus (destroyer of Jerusalem’s Temple) ruled only two years and was succeeded by his younger son Domitian, an honourable man who eventually became a well-known persecutor of Christians. (In this scenario, could Vespasian be the “little horn” that uprooted his three predecesors in Daniel 7:24? I’m not sure how to make the numbers work on that, however.)
If you add the five members of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, you have eight emperors, but with one very short reign that probably hardly counted (Titus). In this manner you can get 5 prior emperors, one current one, one future one who persecutes (Domitian), yet have an extra eighth member of the club who is there, but barely enough to count, yet is one of the seven.
Or maybe Julius Caesar, the originator of that system, is the head that was killed, yet the system came back in Augustus. Julius is part of the 7, but is sort of separate from its ultimate fulfilment. This would work if the letter were written in the days of Nero, the sixth of that line.
According to John, the last of the seven kings is yet future, and will form an agreement with 10 kings. These are probably not the 10 horns of Daniel 7, but probably are the 10 toes of Daniel 2:41, the kingdom that will be struck by “a stone” that was cut “without hands” and utterly destroyed.
Eventually the 10 subject rulers will turn on the “Queen of the World” and utterly lay her waste. I see here perhaps a three-tier system of an emperor, an empire, and 10 subservient client states that have allowed themselves to be bought off for mutual advantage. Perhaps the empire rules for a while after the “blitzkrieg” until the clients mount a counter-attack. Maybe barbarian hordes eventually sack the city after being held at bay for a while.
“Babylon the Great” is probably another code-name for Rome, used to get by Roman mail censors. Though Babylon probably did not invent world-empire, she is engraved in the Judeo/Christian psyche by the Biblical account as its chief avatar or archetype. John is probably placing these events in the far-future “end-time” of Jesus’ return. One way or another, the “city which reigns over the kings of the earth” – typified by Rome or its archetype, Babylon – meets her doom because of Jesus’ judgment upon her for killing his saints.
What the impending fall of Bablyon the Great means for present servants of Jesus Christ is revealed in a later chapter.