OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
I see what you’re saying, Joel. I’ll take a swipe at interpreting this passage. What have I got to lose?
“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. The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.” (NASB95)
The general pre-AD 70 preterist interpretation is that John is speaking of the emperors: hence, there were five emperors before the present one and the next will rule for a short time. Jay Adams sees two possible schemas:
1. Five Fallen: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero
2. One Is: Vespasian
3. the other that has not yet come: Titus
4. the eighth: Domitian
1. Five Fallen: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligular, Claudius
2. One Is: Nero
3. the other that has not yet come: Galba, who reigned for only 7 months
4. the eighth: those who follow Galba, the Vespasian emperors
That is not to say that preterism is in agreement, since J. Stuart Russell maintains that the woman is actually Jerusalem and that the seven hills are the seven Roman procurators/governors who were “kings” of Judea.
Most historicists agree that the 7 hills are in fact symbolic of Rome. They see the five who have fallen as precursors to the present Imperium, the sixth as the present rule of Princeps (emperors), the seventh as a short period in which Rome did not dominate the world (although some, like Newton, proposed that the 7th was the Holy Roman Empires), and the eighth as the Roman Catholic church.
Hendricksen, along with other spiritualists, maintain that the beast is Nero, symbolic of Rome and the Spirit of Antichrist. The five that have fallen are the five world kingdoms that have passed: Babylon, Assyria, New Babylon (Chaldean), Medo-Persia, and Greco-Macedonia. Hendricksen then sees the 7th as a collective of all the anti-Christian governments from the fall of Rome until the time of antichrist.
Hendricksen’s position is not shared by all spiritualist interpreters. Some hold that they are individual persecutors of the church and that the eighth will be a concentration of all of the previous seven (hence, “one of the seven”).
Most futurists see the seven mountains as a clear reference to Rome, but this is not a universal interpretation by any means. Both Seiss in The Apocalypse and Walvoord in The Revelation of Jesus Christ held that mountains ARE NOT hills, and thus the seven mountains are not equatable to either Rome or Jerusalem. They are then symbolic of kingdoms.
Thus, Seiss maintains:
by these seven great powers then, filling up the whole interval of this world’s history, this Harlot is said to be carried. On these she rides, according to the vision. It is not upon one alone, nor upon any particular number of them, but upon all of them, the whole seven-headed Beast, that she sits.
The seven great powers, according to Seiss, are: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and a future kingdom - probably the Beast’s kingdom. He then maintains that the eighth the Beast himself “of the seven.”
Other futurists stick to the historicist interpretation, maintaining that the seven are the forms of Roman government. As such, the Beast represents an eighth form of government over Rome.
Because I try to view the Revelation in the Roman context, I find it impossible to accept any of these views wholesale. John may very well have been aware of the book of Daniel in his composition, but the additions of Egypt or the Early Babylonian kingdoms to the others just doesn’t seem to fit his place in history.
I also find that most interpreters are naive when it comes to the actual history of the world, seeking out information that fits their scheme for interpretation rather than viewing the true history of what was going on.
I tend to side with the historicists view that the “one is” is the regime that ruled Rome at the time John is composing this. But I have a hard time synchronizing what I know about the imperium with any kind of historicist, futurist or preterist scheme. They all fall short of the truth historically.
If I had to decide today, I would probably side with Joel that the mountains are earthly kingdoms but I would maintain that they are not world- kingdoms, but rather those which dominated and subjugated Israel specifically. Israel’s history would seem to fit the paradigm.
1. Five Fallen: Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Macedonian, Seleucid/Antiochane
2. One is: Rome
3. One which will come: Perhaps the modern “state” of Israel?
4. The eighth: The Beast
I have to admit, while I suggest this, it is totally off-the-cuff. I throw it out there as an idea that we can discuss and develop.