Most Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
Abbreviations: ESV = English Standard Version; NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible
I confess that chapter 17 has been a hard row to hoe. I have struggled personally with finding time and energy to work on it. I also find that there is so much compacted into these 18 verses, that I get overwhelmed. I would appreciate it if those of you who read this prayed for me. Thank you for attending my pity party.
VERSE 17:11: This verse is in the context of enumerating “kings.” The following is a description of eight kings in 17:10-11:
- There are seven kings represented by the seven heads of the Beast.
- Five of these kings have already fallen (before John’s vision).
- The sixth king is described as follows: “One is.” That seems to imply that this king exists contemporaneously with John’s vision.
- The seventh king “has not yet come” and will only remain “a little while.”
- There is an eighth king, who is described in 17:11. He is described in the same way as the Beast is described in verse 17:8: The wording in 17:8 is as follows: it “was, and is not , and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” In 17:11, the same pattern is used, only there is wording added within the formula: “As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” The phrase, “and is about to rise from the bottomless pit,” is omitted.
I want to establish five ideas, which are closely related.
- The eighth king of 17:11 is identified with the Beast of 17:8.
- The historical time period for the eighth king is removed from the time period of the first seven kings.
- The relationship between the eighth king and the first seven kings is spiritual and not physical.
- The eighth king is the re-emergence of the spirit of the seven kings from the Abyss.
- The exact identity of the seven kings of 17:9-10 is not of vital importance to the interpretation of verse 17:11
- THE EIGHTH KING OF 17:11 IS THE BEAST OF 17:8.
The eighth king is described in the same way as the Beast is described in verse 17:8: The wording in 17:8 is as follows: it “was, and is not , and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.” In 17:11, the same pattern is used, only there is wording added within the formula: “As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” The phrase, “and is about to rise from the bottomless pit,” is omitted in the latter verse. The time-line is unique for the Beast. It is alluded to in the second part of verse 17:8: The earth-dwellers “will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” On the basis of this unique time-line, which is applied to the Beast and to the eighth king, it seems reasonable to understand that the eighth king and the Beast are the same entities.
- THE HISTORICAL TIME PERIOD FOR THE EIGHTH KING IS REMOVED FROM THE TIME PERIOD OF THE FIRST SEVEN KINGS
This conclusion does not rest on the contents of chapter 17 except that there are some allusions to other material. The following are my reasons for placing the eighth king in a different time period than the seven kings.
- I have already indicated that the eighth king is very likely the Beast of 17:8.
- I also consider that this Beast and the first Beast described in chapter 13 (13:1-8) are one and the same.
- I believe that this Beast is a person or an empire, or both, that will exist in the last days shortly before the Second Coming of Christ. I base this on the “end of the story,” in Revelation 19:11-21. In that description, the Beast is conquered by a rider on a white horse. This rider is Jesus Christ at His Second Coming. The Beast is, then, operating in the time period leading up to the Second Coming.
- Moreover, various allusions to the book of Daniel are found throughout Revelation. Especially, there are allusions to one-half of a seven-year time span that appears to correspond to the “seventieth week of Daniel.” That period is understood by many to occur at the end of the present age. These allusions indicate that events that are depicted in Revelation--including the career of the Beast--take place during the seventieth week of Daniel.
In 17:11, the wording is similar to 17:8, but it replaces the clause about ascending from the Abyss with the following: “...it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven...” This wording is odd enough to draw our attention. If the purpose were simply to continue the enumeration of kings, one would expect something like the following for verse 17:11: The eighth king was and is not and it will ascend from the Abyss and go to destruction.” This would signal to the reader: “OK, we have discussed kings 1 through 7, now let’s go on to king number 8.” However, verse 17:11 does three things:
- First, it draws attention to the subject of the verse by referring back to verse 17:8. It is, as I have already asserted, an identification of the subject of the verse with the Beast of 17:8.
- Second, it identifies this Beast as an eighth king, but not necessarily the eighth consecutive king. It simply is the eighth of kings that are being discussed. An analogy might be a group of floats in a parade. One might name float number 1--the float from Wisconsin, float number 2--the float that has a bubble machine, and so forth, until one comes to the seventh float that has passed by--it is the float with the members of a brass band riding on it. One might remark, “All of those floats were horse-drawn.” Then, one might say, “Oh, by the way, there was another float in the parade that caught my eye. It was the eighth float that was drawn by horses.” Note, that the person is NOT saying this eighth float is the eighth consecutive float in the parade. It might be the 16th of all the floats, but it is the eighth float that the narrator is discussing, and the eighth float that was drawn by horses. In the same way, the king of verse 11 is the eighth king that is being discussed, not necessarily the eighth consecutive king. In fact, the construction of verse 17:11 make it unlikely that the eighth consecutive king is in mind.
- Third, the king of verse 11 is said to have both a relationship with the first seven kings and to be distinct from them. “It is an eighth but it belongs to the seven.” “It is an eighth” establishes this king as a separate entity. Nevertheless it is “belongs to the seven.” This phrase is translated more literally: “it is of the seven” or “it is from the seven.” The grammar of this is that “seven” is genitive or ablative that, with the preposition “of” (ek), denotes a source (Brooks and Winbery, 24) or the preposition is used with the genitive to “denote origin...as to family, race, city, people, district, etc.” (Arndt and Gingrich, 234). I believe that the “origin” is spiritual rather than physical. I base this on the evidence that I have presented that this eighth king will exist in an historical time period far removed from the period when the first seven kings existed.
4. THE EIGHTH KING IS THE RE-EMERGENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF THE SEVEN KINGS FROM THE ABYSS.
Verses 17:8a and 17:11 are similar in their construction, sufficiently similar to persuade one that they are about the same entity. They are as follows (ESV):
17:8a “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.”
17:11 “As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.”
I have, I think, established that the eighth king is the beast that is described in 17:8. Moreover, I think I have presented evidence that the eighth king has a spiritual relationship with the seven kings, not necessarily a physical relationship. And I have made a case that the eighth king will live in a historical period far removed from the period of the seven kings. If one compares the 17:8a to 17:11, the following constructions are the only essential differences:
“[A]nd is about to rise from the bottomless pit” is replaced by: “it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven…” The expression in verse 17:8 describes the ascension of the Beast from the bottomless pit (Abyss). The expression in 17:11 posits a relationship (which I maintain is spiritual) between the seven kings and the eighth. It seems reasonable to conclude that the ASCENSION OF THE BEAST FROM THE ABYSS IS A RE-EMERGENCE OF THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE SEVEN KINGS IN THE PERSON OF THE BEAST. Note that this conclusion ties in well with the time-line of the Beast:
- He was: He was manifested in the spiritual evil of the seven kings.
- He was not: He “went underground” in the sense that his spiritual nature was held captive in the underworld or Abyss.
- He ascended from the Abyss: He came forth in the person of the Beast.
- He will go to perdition: He will be defeated by Christ at His coming and cast into the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 19:20)
I might note that Paul’s description of the Man of Lawlessness in II Thessalonians 2 seems to parallel this scenario (references to II Thessalonians 2):
- A “Man of Lawlessness” is revealed. (2:3)
- This person is termed “the son of destruction [perdition--same word that is used to describe the fate of the Beast in 17:8 and 11].” (2:3)
- Something or someone is “restraining” this Man until he can be revealed at the proper time. (2:6)
- The mystery of lawlessness is already at work [at the time of the writing II Thessalonians--during the Roman Empire]. (2:7)
5. THE EXACT IDENTITY OF THE SEVEN KINGS OF 17:9-10 IS NOT OF VITAL IMPORTANCE TO INTERPRETATION OF VERSE 17:11.
I have made the point that the eighth king of 17:11 is of the same spirit as the seven kings of 17:9-10. I believe that the seven kings need not be identified with precision. The key entity in the passage is the eighth king, who is also termed the Beast in 17:8 and 17:11. That Beast’s relationship to the seven kings is spiritual. That is not a trivial relationship. The seven kings represent the ancient Roman Empire in all of its history. That Empire set a spiritual precedent, a depository of evil--which was carried out in persecution, blasphemy that is linked to God-defying pride, filthy immorality, cruelty, military aggression, slavery, pagan religiosity. That spiritual deposit, in some spiritual netherworld called the Abyss, will someday emerge and manifest itself again in the person of the Antichrist/Beast and his empire.
- Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
- Brooks, James A. and Carlton L. Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979.
- Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002.
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