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Revelation 17:12, 13 says,
12 And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose and they give their power and authority to the beast for one hour.
If we tried to paint a picture of a beast with seven heads and ten horns, we would be faced with a big problem. How does one fit ten horns on just seven heads? It is obviously symbolic, and the angel explains to John that the horns, like the seven heads are “kings.” Yet when John received this revelation (96 A.D.) these kings or kingdoms had not yet arisen. So this was a future event.
In this case there were ten nations or ethnic groups in Europe that did not as yet have kingdoms of their own, because they were under the control of the Roman Empire. They were:
10. Heruli (who merged with the Longobards, or Lombards, “long beards”)
These ten nations may be connected to the “toes” on the feet of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which are mentioned in Dan. 2:41,42. However, Daniel gives no details about the toes, other than that they were on the “feet” of the fourth beast. Whereas the “legs” were of iron (Roman Empire), the feet and toes were “partly of iron and partly of pottery” (or “clay,” KJV). Dan. 2:42 explains the significance of this mixture, saying, “some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle.”
Lacking the strength of pure iron, these ten toes were not as strong as Rome. Yet being on the feet of the image, they were to rise after the fall of the Iron Kingdom in 476 A.D. Obviously, as Rome collapsed, the ten toes became relatively stronger than Rome. Yet the prophet gives us no further details until Dan. 7:7, when he reveals how the fourth beast with “large iron teeth… had ten horns.”
Dan. 7:8 says that while the prophet contemplated the meaning of the iron beast, “another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots.” This little horn we have identified as Papal Rome, which arose as Imperial Rome crumbled. In Book 2 of my commentary on Daniel, Prophet of the Ages, chapter 2, I showed how the three horns uprooted by the little horn were the Heruli, (in 493 A.D.), the Vandals (in 533), and the Ostrogoths (in 553). These are the last three on our kingdom list (p. 39). Their histories, written by Orthodox Christians in Rome, call them barbarians, because they were Arian Christians, not Orthodox.
The ten horns of Dan. 7:7 are also the ten horns of Rev. 17:12, but John writes nothing of the little horn’s conquest and uprooting of three of those horns. The angel tells John in Rev. 17:13 that “they give their power and authority to the beast.” The beast, of course, is the little horn of Daniel 7, so by linking these two sets of prophecies, we see that three of the “horns” did not willingly give their power to the beast, but were subjected violently by war.
The ten horns formed ten independent kingdoms for a short season (“one hour”) after the fall of Rome in 476 A.D., after which time these horns began to be uprooted, beginning in 493.
Revelation 17:14 continues,
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.
Here again we see the theme of the little horn’s war on the saints, first prophesied in Dan. 7:21, then by John in Rev. 13:7, and now again in Rev. 17:14, where it is described as a “war against the Lamb.” The little horn’s war is ultimately directed against Jesus Christ Himself, but because He is out of reach (in heaven), the war is directed against His body on earth—that is, the arnion, the little lambs, or the saints.
Jesus takes this persecution personally, of course, for to persecute them is to persecute Jesus Himself. This principle is revealed in Acts 9:4 when Jesus first appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road, asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” When Saul inquired as to who He was, Jesus answered in Acts 9:5, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
So we see this principle again in Rev. 17:14, where the “war against the Lamb” is a war against Jesus Himself but is fought on earth against “the saints” (Dan. 7:21). John’s term arnion is the body of Christ, those who follow the leading of their Head. The little horn, on the other hand, demands that the body of Christ consider the popes to be their head.
The Lamb is destined to “overcome them,” that is, to overcome the ten horns being directed by the little horn beast. How can we be sure? Because Christ is “Lord of lords and King of kings.” As the rightful Heir of the world, He cannot lose, even though the war seems to go badly for the saints during the time allotted to the little horn. The little horn was destined to overcome the saints UNTIL the time came for them to possess the Kingdom.
It is interesting, then, that John assures us that Christ’s victory over the beast is not accomplished all by Himself, though certainly He is the reason for success. The angel tells John that the Lamb will win, along with “those who are with Him.” Daniel calls them “the saints of the Most High,” but the angel in Rev. 17:14 says they “are the called [kletos, “called, invited”] and chosen [eklektos, “elect, chosen”] and faithful [pistis, “trusty, faithful].”
The body of Christ are first called, or invited (as to a banquet), then chosen as God’s “elect,” and finally they are found to be faithful when tested by the persecution of the little horn. To be one of God’s chosen people involves all three of these elements. Notably lacking in this list is their race or genealogy. Thus, the angel supports Paul’s statement in Rom. 11:7, where we see that not all Israelites are “chosen,” but only the remnant of grace that had remained faithful to God in Jezebel’s persecution. The term “God’s chosen people” did not apply to unbelieving Jews, nor, in the case of the little horn, does the term apply later to the church beast that persecutes the saints.
Revelation 17:15 says,
15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”
This is a reference to an earlier passage in Rev. 17:1, which speaks of “the great harlot who sits on many waters.” It is a picture of the counterfeit bride holding dominion over many people and nations.
Revelation 17:16 then takes us to the end of the age,
16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.
The ten horns are united as a single beast on which the harlot rides (or rules), but in the end God causes the beast(s) to turn on the harlot and to “eat her flesh.” This was done to fulfill the prophetic story of Jezebel, who was eaten by her own dogs. Elijah prophesied this in 2 Kings 9:10,
10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.
When this prophecy was fulfilled, Jehu, who had been anointed king, found Jezebel in 2 Kings 9:32-36,
32 Then he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” And two or three officials [“eunuchs”] looked down at him. 33 And he said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses, and he trampled her under foot. 34 When he came in, he ate and drank; and he said, “See now to this cursed woman and bury her, for she is a king’s daughter.” 35 And they went to bury her, but they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands. 36 Therefore they returned and told him. And he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel’.”
The “dogs” in this prophecy are the equivalent of the ten horns which form the beast on which the great harlot rides. When the time of the harlot’s persecution ends, the saints obtain victory over her. The divine court makes a decree giving the dominion to the saints of the Most High. Then God puts it into the heart of the “dogs” to turn against the harlot and to “eat” her.
To eat or devour is a Hebrew metaphor for conquering. We see this when the ten spies gave an evil report in Num. 13:32, saying, “The land… devours its inhabitants.” But Joshua responded in Num. 14:9 KJV, “they are bread for us.” The question was who would eat who? That is, who would conquer and consume who?
So the angel makes it clear that the “dogs” (or nations) that had been seduced by the great harlot would be the ones who would destroy her and devour her. Ahab and Jezebel had usurped the vineyard of Naboth in Jezreel, which was a type of the Kingdom, and so they were both killed in Jezreel. Jezreel means “God scatters.” When applied to Israel, it meant scattering seed in order to sow her in the earth (Hosea 2:23), but when applied to Jezebel, it referred to the scattering of her bones as each dog fought for its share.
This grisly scene, of course, is purely symbolic when it comes to the actual fulfillment of prophecy in our time. The point is that the harlot system will be destroyed by the nations and the people who have been oppressed by her domination. The saints will not have to fight this battle except in spiritual warfare. God will use blind unbelievers to execute justice on the persecutor.
The angelic explanation ends in Rev. 17:18, saying,
18 And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.
The implication is that “the kings of the earth” are also the “dogs” who turn on Jezebel and “eat” her flesh. The city has already been identified earlier as “Babylon,” and Rev. 16:12 implies that the kings from the east are the nations whom God has raised up to overthrow the yoke of Babylon-Jezebel. The saints of the Most High are then given the Dominion Mandate, though the angel does not tell us precisely how this happens.
The main pattern that we have is from Dan. 6:1-3, where Darius the Mede makes Daniel the head of state when he reorganizes the kingdom into 120 provinces (“satraps”). That pictures the saints of the Most High being given authority in the Kingdom that is to come.
The seventh bowl of wine poured out upon Babylon toward the end of Revelation 16 prophesies the fall of the city in terms of earthquakes and hail. The overthrow of the harlot at the end of Revelation 17 draws from the prophetic story of Jezebel. These accounts do not contradict each other, but rather they give supplementary details. Hence, in some way the divine “hail” of truth upon Babylon in Rev. 16:21 suggests that the ten horns of the red beast will turn against the harlot when they learn the truth about her.
It is also important to note that the saints are not the ones who eat the flesh of the harlot, but the beasts that she has ruled. God uses the nations to bring about His purpose and to execute the judgment decreed by the saints of the Most High. Hence, when we observe international events today, we ought not to condemn the nations for overthrowing the harlot. The nations may be beastly, but in the end, they are agents of divine judgment.
This brings Revelation 17 to an end, with its description of the harlot city and its fall.