Chapter 6

The Seven-Headed Beast

In the book of Revelation we are told of a monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns. In the last days one of the heads of this beast is said to persecute the saints, force everyone to worship him and his image, and force people to receive some kind of mark on their forehead or right hand to show their allegiance to him. This seven-headed beast is almost universally believed by premillennial scholars to be the Antichrist, the Antichrist’s kingdom, or both.

Though I will have much to say about the interpretation of this beast by those who subscribe to the Islamic Antichrist theory, I will start with a particular passage in Revelation 17. This passage is primarily used by proponents of that viewpoint as evidence that the seventh head of this beast refers to an Islamic Empire.

In Revelation 17 John has a vision of a strange woman sitting on top of the same seven-headed beast that was first introduced five chapters earlier in Revelation 13. This woman, who we are told represents a city (Revelation 17:18), is riding on top of the Antichrist, seemingly endorsing and promoting the beast and his doctrine. Around verse 7 of this chapter, an angel begins to explain to John the meaning of this particular vision, and in verses 9-11 the angel tells John the meaning of the beast’s seven heads. It is this section about the heads of the beast that is so important to the Islamic Antichrist theory.

“(This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings: five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction.” (Revelation 17:9–11 NET)

Before I begin discussing the Islamic Antichrist theorists’ interpretation of this passage, it would be helpful to describe some of the more traditional interpretations.

The early reformers who tended to view the Antichrist and his kingdom as the Roman Catholic Church taught that the seven “mountains” were a reference to the seven hills in Rome. On the surface this sounds plausible, but an examination of the original Greek in this passage will reveal that the seven mountains are also “seven kings.” They are not just mountains. One of those kings seems to come back to life, demand worship, and speak blasphemies. All of this makes it very unlikely that this is a reference to a few hills in Rome —a hill in Rome simply cannot speak, demand worship, or come back to life in any sense. In addition there is a clear reference to five of these mountains/kings having “fallen away” in John’s day; it also says “that one is, and one is yet to come.” This then simply cannot refer to physical hills in Rome based on the fact that it cannot be said that five of the hills in Rome had “fallen away” in John’s day and only one hill remained, while yet another would show up later. This view that the seven heads of the beast are seven hills in Rome, which was widely believed and taught in the past few centuries, is no longer considered a viable interpretation by the majority of premillennial scholars, because of the underlying Greek and the logical inconsistencies.

Most of the other interpretations of this passage tend to see the seven heads/mountains/kings as being aspects of the Antichrist and/or his kingdom over the centuries. For example, they would see the five fallen kings as historical kings or kingdoms that Satan influenced to do his bidding in the past. A typical list of the five fallen kings or kingdoms might look something like this:

  1. Egypt (Pharaoh)
  2. Assyria (Sennecherib)
  3. Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar)
  4. Medo-Persia (Ahasuerus)
  5. Greece (Antiochus Epiphanies)

When the angel says, “one is,” it usually is taken to mean that one of these kings or kingdoms existed at the time John was writing. So the sixth kingdom would be Rome with Nero or Domitian being the king in view, depending on when the book was written.

The seventh king is the one we are told is “not yet come.” This is the one that is typically seen as the future Antichrist the one that the Bible has so much to say about. Of this final head/mountain/king, it says, “The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven.” I know this is a bit confusing, but it seems that the idea here is that the seventh king experiences a kind of death and resurrection which is described in other places in the book. In effect this seventh head rules twice, making it eight kings that rule in one sense, but since the seventh king is the same as the eighth, the angel emphasizes that there really are only seven in total.

Although there are a huge variety of interpretations of Revelation 17:9-11, many follow the basic premise I have outlined: Five kings or kingdoms have fallen in the past, one was at the time John wrote, and the seventh and final head would experience some kind of resurrection. Some interpreters may see different kings or kingdoms than the ones I have listed, or they may see the heads of the beast as only a reference to kingdoms or nations and not at all to people or kings, but they do tend to agree with the basic premise I have described.

With that background in mind we can now fully understand the arguments that Islamic Antichrist proponents like Joel Richardson make with regard to Revelation 17:9-11. They follow the basic pattern as above (5 past fallen heads, one in John’s day, and one yet to come who will rule twice after some kind of resurrection). Richardson begins by making a case that the heads/mountains/kings should only be viewed as kingdoms and not as actual kings, a point I will discuss at length later. After making his case that only kingdoms and not kings are in view, he presents the following list of the seven heads of Revelation 17:9-11:

  1. Egypt
  2. Assyria
  3. Babylon
  4. Medo-Persia
  5. Greece
  6. Rome
  7. Islamic Empire
  8. Revived Islamic Empire

The first six kingdoms are in line with what many scholars believe; however, the final head which, as we have discussed, is the seventh as well as the eighth, he insists is the Islamic Caliphate. His main argument for this is the Islamic Empire was the next major empire to follow the Roman Empire, so it should be listed as the seventh. He then applies the traditional views of the dying and resurrecting seventh head to envision a revival of the Islamic Empire in the last days as the embodiment of the eighth head.

At first glance this is not a bad argument. The strength of this interpretation is the Islamic Empire is chronologically the next great empire to appear after Rome’s demise. It also seems to correctly understand that the seventh head, the one that resurrects and becomes the eighth head, is not necessarily the same as the sixth head, which is clearly Rome. As Richardson notes in his book, many scholars try to make this passage a reference to the “Revived Roman Empire,” but that would require putting Rome as the sixth, seventh, and eighth heads in this list, essentially reviving Rome twice in addition to the historical Rome. This seems forced because it conflicts with the description of timing of the resurrection in verses 9-11, as well as the order of the heads. That being said, I will try to show you why, although I think it is a better interpretation than some, I believe the Islamic Antichrist view of the seven heads of Revelation 17 is fatally flawed.

Richardson believes he has identified the seventh/eighth kingdom as the Islamic Caliphate based solely on the idea that the Islamic Empire directly followed the Roman Empire chronologically. While it is true that the Islamic Empire followed the Roman Empire chronologically, there is nothing whatsoever in the text of Revelation 17 that says the seventh/eighth head is supposed to follow directly after the sixth kingdom (Roman Empire), or that no other empires will precede the seventh head’s coming. All it says with regard to the seventh head’s chronology are the words “the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come…” This certainly is not telling us to simply look for the next empire to come on the scene after Rome and declare it to be the final head. It is basically saying that it will come at some point in the future. The strength of Richardson’s view here is the other empires on this list, Egypt, Assyria etc., did appear more or less chronologically, and so, if there is supposed to be any kind of chronological pattern, then the Islamic Empire would be the logical choice for the seventh head.

The problem with this is there seems to have been a kind of prophetic pause button pressed after 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple. This period of dispensation and waiting has lasted over 2000 years so far, and there is little reason to try to figure in all the empires that have come and gone during that time into the prophetic equation. For example, very few people are attempting to factor the British Empire into this system of ruling empires. Scripture seems to disregard world politics from the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD until the future Antichrist appears on the scene. This is the basic dispensationalist understanding of the so-called 70th Week of Daniel, in which there is a kind of prophetic gap, ending with the destruction of the temple by the Romans and beginning again when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27). This is why when the angel says, “the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come…” It is quite natural to assume that the advent of the seventh head, which we know as the Antichrist, will make its first appearance with the start of the 70th week of Daniel, which is a future event. There is no reason to go hunting for empires that existed in the last 2000 years during this prophetic no-mans-land for a fulfillment of this seventh kingdom.

The best argument Richardson and other Islamic Antichrist proponents make here––that the Islamic Empire came after the Roman Empire chronologically and should thus be considered the seventh/eighth kingdom––is nullified by the fact that Scripture in no way tells us that the seventh/eighth kingdom is supposed to be the next empire that shows up after Rome. It is far more likely, perhaps even obvious, that the first appearance of the seventh kingdom of the Antichrist coincides with the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, and, therefore, we can easily disregard empires like the Islamic Empire which appears almost 600 years after 70 AD, as well as empires like the British Empire which came after it. These empires are just not significant to prophecy and are totally overlooked in terms of Daniel’s seventy-week prophetic timetable.

The second problem with this interpretation is that one of the only descriptive details the angel gives us about the seventh head, besides the fact it will seem to resurrect, is it only remains a “brief time.”

“Five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time.” (Revelation 17:11)

In another place in his book,1 Joel Richardson tells us the Islamic Empire lasted from 632AD to 1923AD, almost 1300 years. To put that in perspective, the Islamic Empire lasted longer than the Babylonian, Assyrian, Medo-Persian, and Grecian Empires combined! Why would the angel describe the Islamic Empire as only lasting a “brief time,” when it’s one of the longest lasting empires in the history of the world?

I can imagine that Richardson and others would say they believe this “brief time” description is only referring to the second manifestation, or the “revived” version of the Islamic Empire in the last days. But all it takes is a simple reading of verse 11 to see that both the context and grammar of the passage demand that the angel is referring to the seventh head, or possibly even to the combined seventh and eighth reigns as being short, but it does not seem possible to see this as skipping the seventh head altogether and only referring to the second manifestation of the final, or eighth king. There is an unbroken chronology being laid out in verse 11 that requires us to apply the “brief time” description to the seventh head and, therefore, cannot logically be a reference to the incredibly long lasting Islamic Empire.

Five have fallen; one [the sixth] is, and the other [the seventh] has not yet come, but whenever he [the seventh] does come, he [the seventh] must remain for only a brief time.

Some might argue that the Bible speaks of things from a larger perspective and so it is okay for it to describe the Islamic Empire as lasting only a short time, since in the grand scheme of world history 1300 years is not that long of a time. I suppose I would agree with this if it weren’t for the fact that this kingdom/king is found in a list of six other kingdoms that were not described as being short. The angel only singles out the seventh as being short. It stands to reason that the one kingdom in this list that was described as being short should at least be one of the shorter ones on the list, if not the shortest. But as I have already mentioned the Islamic Empire lasted longer than the combined length of four other kingdoms on the list and is easily one of the longest lasting empires on the list.

There is a very good reason for the angel saying the seventh kingdom only remains a short time and it actually includes the eighth manifestation of the seventh head in that calculation. In other words the combined seventh and eighth reigns of the Antichrist are collectively considered to be “brief,” but to understand this, you need to be willing to see the kings in Revelation 17 as kings and not just kingdoms. This shouldn’t be too hard since “kings” is exactly what the angel says they are—but more on that later.

The description of the seventh head lasting only a short time, and the fact that the Islamic Empire was unusually long lasting, and there is no good reason given in the text to necessitate the seventh head directly following Rome, combine to form good reasons to doubt Richardson’s interpretation of Revelation 17: 9-11. But there is another reason that I think is even better.

As I mentioned earlier Richardson holds the position that the seven heads/mountains should only be seen as nations or kingdoms and not as people or kings. As far as I can tell from his books and blogs, he does not allow for this possibility, which I suppose is good for him because if he did, it would throw a major monkey wrench into his understanding of Revelation 17: 9–11. It would mean there is absolutely no reason to see the seventh king as having anything to do with Islam.

Explaining why this is so will take some time, and it may seem like I am getting off topic during the rest of this chapter, but the following discussion will prove to be significant to the point that the seventh head cannot possibly be the Islamic Empire.

Richardson makes the point that since “mountains” can mean empires or kingdoms in other places in Scripture, the heads are referring to nations and not kings. However his interpretation is very strained due to the angel further describing these mountains as “kings” and not kingdoms.

“(This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings.” (Revelation 17:9, emphasis added)

In addition, of the seventeen Bible translations I checked, every single one of them gives the pronoun “he” or “himself” to the actions of the seventh king, suggesting it is a person and not just a kingdom.

“Five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction.” (Revelation 17:10–11, emphasis added)

I should point out here that many other interpreters and scholars also understand the seven heads/mountains as kingdoms, too. It is true that the Bible often uses the term interchangeably, in part because the actions of a king and his kingdom are usually one and the same thing when dealing with matters of state. But these other scholars, when interpreting Revelation 17:9–11 also allow that the heads/mountains/kings are referring to human kings in addition to kingdoms. Take for example this quote from John Walvoord in his commentary on Revelation 17:9–11:

“The reference here is to kings, to mountains of temporal dominion, to empires. It must therefore take in all of them.”2

The reason they can be sure that we must also see the seventh head of the beast as a physical human king as well as a kingdom is not just because the grammar and context of Revelation 17:9-11 seems to demand it, but because we see the exact same seven- headed, ten-horned beast in Revelation 13. In that chapter it is very clear that the head of the beast in question is speaking of the person, not just the kingdom of the Antichrist.

In case there is any doubt that we are dealing with the same beast in Revelation 17 as the one in Revelation 13, take a look at just a few of the characteristics that they both share.

  • They both had seven heads, ten horns.
  • They both had names of blasphemy on their heads.
  • They both were referred to as having been killed yet living.
  • They both have the “earth dwellers” “wonder” at them when they see their apparent resurrection.
  • They both are worshiped by people whose names were not written in the book of life.

Now consider that in Revelation 13 the head of the beast with the mortal head wound is the same one who has an image of himself set up, has people accept a mark that is the number of his name, persecutes the saints, and more, We cannot say that the head in question is simply a kingdom, unless we are also willing to say there really won’t be a man who does any of the things we have typically understood the Antichrist will do, since without the details in Revelation 13 we would know very little about the actions of the Antichrist. Joel Richardson himself would have very little to talk about in his books if he did not also believe the head of the beast in Revelation 13 was a man, not just a kingdom.

As I said many other scholars and writers believe the seven heads are kingdoms, but they also are forced to agree that they must also be a reference to human kings. I say they are forced because many writers and scholars, though they see the necessity of such an admission, do not like the theological implications that arise if they accept that the seventh head of the beast in Revelation 17 is referring to an actual person. i.e. the Antichrist. They tend to downplay the human king aspect of the heads and focus only on the “mountains” or kingdoms aspect because focusing on the human king aspect of the final head would mean that the person of the Antichrist is said to physically die and resurrect (Revelation 13:3, 13:12, 13:14, 17:8, 17:11). They rightly see this as a conflict with the idea that only God can raise the dead. So instead, many of them act as if the heads of the beast are only about kingdoms because it is theologically more palatable to say a nation will die and resurrect, even though most of them, if pressed, would admit that this must also have something to do with the Antichrist himself resurrecting. The typical idea they propose is that the Antichrist doesn’t actually die but only seems to, and his resurrection is therefore a fake or counterfeit.

An interesting way to demonstrate this problem is by citing an article put together by Nathan Jones of Jones asked eleven Bible prophecy experts the question: Will the Antichrist be killed and resurrected from the dead? Of the eleven polled, only two, Arnold Fruchtenbaum and Mark Hitchcock, said yes without reservation. One was undecided and the other eight said no. This would seem to suggest that the majority of experts, at least the ones polled, do not believe the heads of the beast are kings, but only kingdoms. However, on closer inspection of the statements of the eight who answered “no,” it emerges that they do in fact believe the Antichrist himself will fulfill this prophecy of resurrection in some sense, but that he will only seem to die, or his resurrection will be a fake. When you look at it this way, there are really only two people in this poll who believe that the seven heads of the beast have nothing to do with the person of the Antichrist but only his kingdom, and one of those two has clearly been influenced by Joel Richardson.

Typically, Bible teachers are deliberately wishy-washy on this subject. They usually state their belief about the heads being kingdoms with a caveat that if it is talking about the Antichrist, then they believe it has to be a fake resurrection. Take for example this quote from David Reagan

“I side with those who believe the Antichrist will not be killed and resurrected from the dead. I think the passage is speaking of the Roman Empire rising from the dead and not the Antichrist. But, if it is speaking of the Antichrist, I do not believe he will be resurrected from the dead. Instead, I believe his death and resurrection will be a deception using modern technology.”3

Others, like John Walvoord, confidently state when commenting on Revelation 13:3 that the deadly wound that was healed on the beast’s head is simply a reference to the “Revived Roman Empire” and not to the Antichrist himself. Yet he continues his commentary, referring to the same wounded and healed head as the person of the Antichrist, seemingly oblivious of the contradiction that is inherent in his teaching. As far as I know, he never attempts to explain why the same head is a nation in every verse that talks about it having a deadly wound and a person in every other verse.

I believe there is a simple solution to this problem. In Appendix 2 of this book, I include a detailed explanation of this issue, but I will include a summary of it here. I will also recommend a paper by Gregory Harris professor of Bible Exposition at the Masters Seminary, called “Can Satan Raise the Dead - Toward a Biblical View of the Beast’s Wound.”

In essence, the idea that whether the Antichrist really dies or only gets a severe wound that would have caused death if he had not been miraculously healed is open to some debate, but when you consider all five verses in Revelation that speak of this wound and its healing, it seems he really does die and really is brought back to life. This, however, poses no theological problem because, based on 2 Thessalonians 2:9–12, it is God, not Satan, who sends the “strong delusion” that eventually causes the world to worship the beast.

“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12).

When you cross reference this idea with the verses that speak of the beast’s wound being healed in Revelation, you find that the reason the world ultimately gives their allegiance to the beast, and thus damn themselves for eternity, is because of the beast’s wound being healed, i.e. the strong delusion (Revelation 13:2–4, 17:8). The healing of the beast’s wound seems to be the pivotal moment when the world begins to follow the beast and worship him, and that is why I believe Paul in 2 Thessalonians speaks of the “strong delusion” that God Himself sends, the same way.

Now we have come full circle, and as promised I will attempt to quickly explain how this fits into Revelation 17:9–11, and why it is a strong argument against the Islamic Antichrist theorists’’ understanding of the passage.

I will quote it again here so you won’t have to flip back to the previous page to get the context.

“(This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings: five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction.” (Revelation 17:9–11 NET)

When verse 9 says, “The beast that was, and is not,” it is actually a reference to the verse 8 before it:

“The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the abyss and then go to destruction. The inhabitants of the earth—all those whose names have not been written in the book of life since the foundation of the world—will be astounded when they see that the beast was, and is not, but is to come.” (Revelation 17:8)

The phrases in this verse, “The beast you saw was, and is not, but is about to come up from the abyss and then go to destruction.” and “the beast was, and is not, but is about to come” are another way to say that this beast lives, dies, seems to rise again, and will ultimately go to destruction or perdition. It’s sort of a chronology of the Antichrist’s entire career on earth. This aspect of the Antichrist functions as a title on several occasions in the book of Revelation, such as in 13:12,14, but by Revelation 17 this idea of him living, dying, coming back to life, and going to destruction is a very firm title of the Antichrist. Even the idea of his coming up from the “abyss” is a reference to his resurrection, which can be demonstrated by showing how Jesus’ resurrection is described as coming up from the abyss as well (Romans 10:6–7). See Appendix 2 for more on this.

By the time we get to verse 11 which says, “The beast that was, and is not, is himself an eighth king and yet is one of the seven, and is going to destruction...” We can see that, when it says “The beast that was, and is not…” it is an established title of the Antichrist that refers to his apparent death and resurrection.

First this shows us that the reason for describing the Antichrist as the seventh and eighth kings is because he essentially has two aspects of his reign, one before he dies and one after he is resurrected. One aspect probably begins when he makes a covenant at the start of the last seven years of the 70th week of Daniel, and the other aspect of his reign, i.e. the eighth king aspect, occurs at the midpoint. One can assume that the boundaries and nature of his kingdom after the midpoint will be substantially different as well.

This also means that we can make sense of the grammar and context of Revelation 17:9–11 when it seems to suggest that the combined seventh and eighth rule of the Antichrist is short or “brief” because, at only seven years total (three and a half for each), it is by far one of the shortest empires of all time, certainly the shortest of the other six kings/kingdoms on the list.

The third thing this means for us is there is absolutely no reason to see the seventh king/kingdom as being a previously existing kingdom because both the seventh and eighth aspects of the final head, who we are told are actually the same person, have not come on the scene yet, so the idea that this is a the Islamic Empire or any other ancient empire is unnecessary.

I have given several reasons in this chapter as to why the seventh head of the beast in Revelation 17:9–11 is not the Islamic Empire:

  • The text is not telling us to simply look for the next empire after Rome.
  • The Islamic Empire is one of the longest lasting Empires in history and, therefore, would not be described by the angel as lasting only a “short time.”
  • Identifying the seventh head as the one yet to come is not just more grammatically and contextually accurate; it is also what one would expect based on the usual understanding of the 70th week of Daniel.
  • By limiting the mountains/heads/kings of Revelation 17 to only kingdoms, despite Scripture clearly telling us that “kings” are in view, Richardson contradicts himself and makes it impossible to see that the seventh and eighth kings are speaking of the Antichrist himself. This means there is no reason to understand the seventh king as the Islamic Empire.