One thing that can be said of Jesus’ and John’s eschatology is that it is certainly Danielic. Jesus refers to Daniel both directly (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14) and indirectly (Matthew 21:44, 24:30, 26:64; Mark 13:26, 14:62) when speaking of the immediate and distant future. John’s descriptions of the dragon of Revelation 12, the sea beast of Revelation 13 and the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 are all derivative of the four beasts of Daniel 7. The scene of the throne room of Revelation 4-5 with “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (5:11) surrounding the Lord is clearly resonant of the same scene depicted in Daniel 7:10 where “thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” Our eschatology, like Jesus’ and John’s, must be Danielic as well.
As we noted last week, we intend this week to discuss the traditional historicist interpretation of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10. It is our contention that the traditional historicist interpretation is insufficiently Danielic, and because of that, misses the significance of the seven kings.
The angelic narrator dictated, and John wrote,
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” (Revelation 17:10)
What is the significance of those seven kings? Clearly in the context of Revelation 17, those kings are related to the beast in a way that was immediate and relevant to John at the time of his vision. After all, of those seven, one was currently reigning as John was receiving the vision.
E. B. Elliott, in his Horæa Apocalypticæ, gives the traditional Protestant historicist interpretation of the heads, proposing that they signify the succession of “forms of Government” of the Roman nation. Of the first six heads, he writes,
“In explanation then of the first six Heads I adopt, with the most entire satisfaction, that generally received Protestant interpretation, which, following the authoritative statements of Livy and Tacitus, the two greatest of Roman historians, enumerates Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, and Military Tribunes, as the five first constitutional Heads of the Roman City and Commonwealth; then, as the sixth, the Imperial Head, commencing with Octavius, better known as Augustus Caesar” (Elliott, Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol iii, 96, 98).
As he continues, Elliott observes that Protestants are divided on the meaning of the seventh head. One writer has the seventh head signifying the rise of the “Western Emperors” or “Demi-Cæsars” after the division of the Empire. Another has it referring to the “Dukedom of Rome” after the establishment of the Exarchate of Ravenna, and yet another to the era of Christian emperors after Constantine (Elliott, 101). Elliott for his part saw the seventh head as the reorganized administration of the Empire under Diocletian and his introduction of a diarchy—with an Augustus and a Cæsar or junior emperor—and then the tetrarchy under two Augusti and two Caesars:
“It is this quadripartite or bipartite diademed headship then, that, on Gibbon’s high authority, I regard as the Dragon’s seventh Head.” (Elliott, 108)
So the historicist position, irrespective of the identity of the seventh head, has been that the heads of the beast refer to “forms of Government.” In the particular context of Revelation 17, they have been taken to refer to forms of Roman government.
We must ask, though, whether this “generally received Protestant interpretation” has come down to us with any Danielic authority at all. In his several visions and their interpretations, Daniel’s narrator clearly referred to the eras of kings and to the succession of current and future kings in order to establish a chronology and a timeline. But does Daniel at any point refer to kings as “forms of Government”? Did he ever refer to a succession of kings as a succession of “forms of Government”? No, he did not.
In Daniel 2:44, Daniel refers to the kings of the Iron & Clay period, but nothing in the context suggests that his words, “in the days of these kings” is to be taken to mean “in the days of those forms of Government.”
In Daniel 7:17, the four beasts are taken to refer to “four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.” The kings are taken to refer to a succession of empires, and yet in that succession we do not find a significant variance in the modes of governance, as the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks were all ruled by kings in name, and then the Romans by kings in function, for both the Jews (John 19:5) and the Christians (1 Peter 2:13-17) regarded Cæsar as king. The succession of kings here does not refer to a succession of “forms of Government.”
In Daniel 7:24, the narrator explains that “the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise” from the Fourth Empire. The Little horn is to “subdue three kings.” Nowhere is it suggested in the text that the ten kings are ten “forms of Government,” or that the three subdued kings are three different “forms of Government” that are subdued.
In Daniel 8:20, we are informed that the two horns of the Ram “are the kings of Media and Persia.” The kings in this passage clearly do not refer to different “forms of Government,” but rather to the actual kings and kingdoms of Media and Persia.
In Daniel 10:13 the angel says that he “remained there with the kings of Persia.” Then in 11:1, he identifies events under “Darius the Mede,” and in 11:2 he enumerates a following succession of Persian kings to help Daniel understand the looming transition to Greek dominance:
“And now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.” (Daniel 11:2)
After the king of Medes shall arise kings of Persia, and then after the kings of Persia, a king of the Greeks. By any objective reading, he is referring to a succession of actual kings, not a succession of “forms of Government.”
In Daniel 11 there are plentiful references to kings and succession, but no references to kings as “forms of Government.”
We have revisited all these Danielic references to kings and successions of kings in order to show an apparent weakness of the “generally received Protestant interpretation” of Revelation 17:10. Elliott, of course, has not interpreted any of these Danielic references as “forms of Government.” There is no basis for interpreting “kings” as “forms of Government” anywhere in Danielic eschatology, and Elliott makes no case for it in Daniel. Why then ought we to take “kings” as “forms of Government” in such a Danielic passage as Revelation 17:10? Without any such example from Daniel and his narrators, and without so much as a hint from John, there is no basis for Elliott’s position at all. It comes to us with no Danielic authority whatsoever.
What actually does come down to us from Daniel is the use of a succession of actual rulers to highlight current and looming eschatological transitions. With Daniel, the angelic narrator clearly used kings and the succession of kings to aid Daniel’s chronological understanding of the visions, and in one particular case, to highlight Daniel’s precise location in that chronology. The closest parallel to Revelation 17:10 is Daniel 11:1-2. In this passage, the narrator identifies a Median king, Darius the Mede, and then explains that “there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all.” After him, “a mighty king shall stand up” (Daniel 11:3) referring to Alexander the Great, king of the Greeks.
Thus, in Daniel 11:1-3 the narrator has listed a succession kings in order to highlight not one, but two significant eschatological transitions of relevance to Daniel’s several visions. He highlights the looming transition from Median to Persian dominance—from the first to second Horn of the Ram, as it were (Daniel 8:3,20)—and the transition from Persian to Greek Dominance—from the Silver to the Brass (Daniel 2:39), or from the Bear to the Leopard (Daniel 7:5-6), or from the Ram to the He-goat (Daniel 8:4-5). Median to Persian to Greek dominance was a matter of great eschatological significance in the narratives of Daniel 2, 7, 8 and 11, and those transitions were highlighted for Daniel by an enumerated description of kings.
Daniel 11:1-3 was no reference to a succession of “forms of Government” at all, and John’s reference to a succession of kings in Revelation 17:10 is clearly a narrative tool of Danielic origin. Therefore, we see no reason why Revelation 17:10 ought not be interpreted the same way as its Danielic precursor: the identification of a looming eschatological transition by the enumeration of a succession of actual rulers. There is no basis in Danielic eschatology for any other approach.
That of course leaves us with a rather reasonable and penetrating question from the traditional historicist. What is the point of the reference to seven kings in Revelation 17:10? By asking this question in a rhetorical tone, one historicist attempted to dismiss an interpretation of the seven kings as a reference to the first seven emperors of the Empire: Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and Galba. Because the meaning of the seven kings was not immediately obvious to him, he observed:
“And what would be the point of ending with Galba? What would be the point of the prophecy?” (John Pickle, Who are These Seven Kings?)
What indeed? In his mind, there could be no significance to the seven kings as kings, and therefore the matter was to be dismissed out of hand simply by asking the question. But there is a reason for such a listing of kings.
The point of listing a succession of kings is to highlight a significant eschatological transition. Of that we are informed by Daniel’s narrator himself. When interpreted outside of its Danielic context, the significance of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 is completely lost and we are left to our own devices. By that means Protestants have historically found significance in the succession of Roman “forms of Government,” a concept completely foreign to Danielic eschatology.
But when it is interpreted within its Danielic context, the meaning of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 becomes quite clear. Just as the narrator in Daniel 11 had listed a succession of actual Median, Persian and Greek kings in order to highlight looming and immediate eschatological transitions of the Horns of the Ram, or from Silver to Brass, Bear to Leopard, Ram to He-goat, the narrator of Revelation 17 has done the same thing in purely Danielic fashion. He has listed a succession of actual Roman kings in order to highlight the next eschatological transition, the transition from Iron to Iron & Clay, that is, from Legs to Feet.
As we noted last week, Daniel understood that the kingdom would be transferred during the period of the kings of the Iron & Clay Feet (Daniel 2:44). Jesus knew it as well, and invested considerable amount of time in His parables providing the details and timing of the near-term transfer. He even borrowed explicitly Danielic imagery to warn that Jerusalem’s desolation and the transfer of the kingdom would occur during the period of the Feet of the Fourth Empire of Daniel 2 (Matthew 21:43-44).
Jesus had become man during the period of the Iron Legs. The period of the impact of the Stone on the Iron & Clay Feet was not far away, and with it would come the desolation of Jerusalem, for “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh” (Luke 21:20). After Jesus’ ascension, John received a vision about something that was to begin in the immediate future, for “the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:1-3). His vision came during the reign of the sixth king, and there would only be one brief reign after his (Revelation 17:10) before the period of the Feet would begin. Following the Feet, there would then be the period of the Toes, which was still in the relatively distant future, a point that the angel makes clear to John: “the ten horns which thou sawest … have received no kingdom as yet” (Revelation 17:12).
Thus we have detailed for us in the Scriptures a thoroughly Danielic segmentation of the Fourth Empire into its three periods of Iron Legs, Iron & Clay Feet, and Iron & Clay Toes. We may therefore identify the kings of the three periods as follows:
The Kings during the period of the Legs of Iron: “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” (Revelation 17:10)
The Kings during the period of the Iron & Clay Feet: “And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay … . And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:43-44)
The Kings during the period of the Iron & Clay Toes: “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” (Revelation 17:12)
Jesus came during the Iron Legs. Jerusalem was destroyed during the Iron & Clay Feet. Antichrist arose after the emergence of the Iron & Clay Toes. All three periods may be discerned from the Scriptures.
Thus, to answer Pickle’s question, “What is the point of ending with Galba?” The answer is simple: Galba was the last king of the period of the Iron Legs, as we noted in Part 1. That is the significance of understanding the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 as seven actual kings in succession since the rise of Julius Cæsar as Dictator perpetuo, in 44 B.C.. It is an interpretation that actually does come with Danielic precedence, for the narrator used exactly that approach in Daniel 11:1-3 to highlight a looming eschatological transition from the first to the second Horn of the Ram, from Silver to Brass, Bear to Leopard and Ram to He-goat. In Revelation 17, the looming transition is from Legs to Feet—from Iron to Iron & Clay—and thus, John’s vision occurred under the sixth king of the period of the Iron Legs: Nero.
Our primary point in this series is to identify the time of John’s vision by identifying the transitions from Legs to Feet to Toes. This week in particular we addressed the traditional historicist position that the kings of Revelation 17:10 are to be taken as a succession of forms of Roman government, a position with which we disagree. There is simply no basis in Danielic eschatology for taking kings to mean such a thing. While the Johannine narrator does not elucidate the meaning of the kings, the Danielic narrator did. Kings are enumerated as actual kings in order to highlight a looming eschatological transition. It is not difficult to see what that next transition was, for the Scriptures identify it for us.
We will continue on this theme next week.